With the surge of the Princeton women's tennis team to No. 46 in the nation, in particular the rise to No. 13 in national singles by freshman Kavitha Krishnamurthy, the Princeton Invitational seemed to be another opportunity for No. 1 seed Krishnamurthy to lead an ever-improving Tiger squad.
But by Sunday's singles final, No. 2 seed Cynthia Tow of Boston College did not see Krishnamurthy opposing her on the opposite side of the court. There stood unseeded sophomore Priya Bhupathi — the Tigers' No. 5 player.
"Surely, Priya was the star this weekend and gave the whole team a boost," head coach Louise Gengler said. "[But] I was extremely pleased with everyone's performance. If anyone struggled, they came through it with a good match."
Bhupathi's performance, despite a hotly-contested loss to Tow in the finals, epitomized what was an encouraging sign of the depth of this Tiger squad. Despite the absence of No. 2 senior Jyotsna Vasisht because of a sprained ankle, the Tigers saw four of their players reach the singles quarterfinals. This success carried over to the doubles competition, where Princeton's tandem of senior Amanda Hastings-Phillips and junior Gailor Large propelled itself to its first doubles tournament victory ever, beating out a field of tough competition.
"It was such an impressive win," Gengler said. "There were at least five teams that could have pulled away and won the doubles tournament, but they were able to do it.
"Overall, it was a great way to start the spring season."
Bhupathi, who in dual meet competition would normally play against the No. 5 player on an opposing team, cleared a path to the finals by impressively defeating top players from opposing squads such as Dartmouth, Yale and Boston College. After getting a free pass to the quarterfinals when third-seeded Rebecca Dirksen bowed out because of excessive leg cramping, Bhupathi went on to grueling straight-set victories over No. 7 seed Tamara Truta of Temple, 6-4, 6-4, and Boston College's Kiren Fernando, 6-4, 6-3. In each of these matches, Bhupathi played consistent throughout, keeping her errors at a minimum and utilizing all the court with her powerful volleys.
"Priya was so mentally strong and tough this weekend; she didn't let anyone intimidate her this weekend," Phillips said. "Even her final match [against hard-hitting Tow], she hung in there and gave her opponent a tough time.
"It was clearly her best meet ever."
Bhupathi, however, was able to avoid her toughest possible competition in the semifinal match when Krishnamurthy defaulted her quarterfinal match due to a pain in her shoulder that she experienced during warm-ups on Saturday.
"It feels fine now. I think I just slept on it funny that night," Krishnamurthy said Sunday night following the tournament.
In the doubles competition, Hastings-Phillips and Large, who recently advanced to No. 38 in the nation among doubles teams, pummeled through their early-round competition by winning easily in the first and second rounds by the scores of 8-2 and 8-3 in respective pro-set victories. Tow and fellow Eagle Ruta Vietas appeared once again to ruin Princeton's championship hopes when they met the Tiger squad in the semifinal round.
In a match in which every game was a battle, Princeton pulled away with a 9-7 victory. With their toughest competition behind them, Hastings-Phillips and Large went on to an impressive 8-4 victory in the finals.
"I'm really proud of our doubles play this weekend," Hastings-Phillips said. "I'm passionate about playing doubles with Gailor, and it was something special to win this Invitational."
Overall for the Tigers, it was an optimistic start to a spring season that sees the Tigers as the prospective favorites to win the Ivy title this year, despite the continued absence of senior and former No. 1 Blair Farr due to a rotator-cuff injury.