Facing off against the nation’s top ranked doubles team in the first round of the main doubles draw at the ITA All-American tournament on Thursday, senior Alex Day and junior Luke Gamble battled back from a 1-6 start to take the second set 6-3 and lead 12-11 in the deciding tiebreaker.
With the match point resting on him, Day stepped in on his return to pound a backhand winner down the line and upset the No. 1 team in the country.
“I felt absolute ecstasy when we won. I didn’t believe we could do it. You almost black out for a second,” said Gamble.
Standing at No. 21 in this fall's preseason rankings, Gamble and Day were not expected to advance against Oklahoma State’s Julian Cash and Arjun Kadhe, especially after the decisive first set in Cash and Kadhe’s favor.
It was coach Damian Hume’s guidance that Gamble credits with Princeton’s surge of confidence that helped them take the second set.
“Hume was integral in helping us bring out our potential. He was the one who got us in the right mental spot of playing shot for shot and having fun, which helped us loosen up,” said Gamble.
“I went and I watched a bunch of videos on them beforehand, so I got a good count on them. The biggest part of the game plan was not overthinking it and have fun playing against the No. 1 team in the country, because you don’t get that opportunity too many times,” added Hume.
Day began connecting with his volleys to put balls away at net and Gamble was able to force errors and gain control of the point off of his serve, tying the set score at 1-1.
Princeton capitalized on the small window of opportunity given to them by Oklahoma State in the 10-point match-deciding tiebreaker, edging their opponents out by a mere two points.
Gamble and Day looked to recreate their success in the quarterfinals against Gergely Madarasz and Ricardo Mendinilla of Purdue, but couldn’t manage to close out the 10-point tiebreaker as they did in the first round, falling 6-1, 2-6, 6-10.
“We were playing really well in the first set and I thought we were the better team, but in doubles it comes down to a few points with small margins and windows. Us playing so well early on ironically gave them a little window, because we got confident and we left the playing point by point thing by already thinking ahead to quarterfinals,” said Gamble.
Princeton’s volleys that helped them to take the first match abandoned them in the second.
“Our feet stopped moving and we missed a few easy shots,” said Gamble.
Day, Gamble, and junior Diego Vives were defeated earlier in the tournament on Oct. 10 in the qualifying singles draw.
Day forced his USC opponent Rob Bellamy to a third set before falling 4-6, 6-2, 1-6.
“Alex played a tough guy who hasn’t lost a match this whole year. That guy played some really good big points that Alex couldn’t close out,” said Hume.
Vives and Gamble fell in straight sets; Vives to Baylor’s Jimmy Bendeck 2-6, 0-6 and Gamble to George Washington University’s Julius Tverijonas 5-7, 3-6.
Vives and Day competed in the qualifying singles consolation draw the following day but couldn’t pick up wins for Princeton.
Jurence Mendoza of Oklahoma State defeated Day 6-2, 6-0, and Vives lost to Illinois’ Julian Childers 6-7(0), 2-6.
“My tennis is not where I want it to be. Luckily that’s why we have the fall. It’s a good chance to get as many tough matches as we can so that we are able to be in the best shape possible for the spring … I just need to keep working and results will start coming,” said Vives.
With regionals in two weeks, Day and Gamble in particular are looking to build upon their upward momentum from their performance at All-Americans.
Said Gamble, “The win gives us new and higher sights and more belief for sure. One of the things Alex and I struggle with is our consistency. We can lose to anyone else but beat really good teams. Our strengths are in our serves, forehands, and volleys, so if we’re hitting them we can pull ahead.”