For the Princeton men’s tennis team (17–6 overall, 1–0 Ivy League), it’s good to be home: following a three-match West Coast trip, the Tigers returned to Princeton and began Ivy League play on a warm Saturday afternoon with a close win against the University of Pennsylvania (16–6, 0–1 Ivy).
The Tigers entered Ivy League play with a 16–6 overall record, most recently squaring off against Wichita State, San Diego, and Harvard in San Diego, where they won one of three matches. Being back home, however, seems to be more conducive to winning.
“Weather like this and being able to play in our beautiful outdoor venue bodes well for us,” head coach Billy Pate said. “Princeton people seem to want to get out and cheer, so it was great to have that spirit.”
With multiple matches coming down to the wire, it was clear that Princeton needed to have that spirit if they wanted to come out with a victory over the 48th-ranked Quakers. The Tigers’ doubles matches gave the team an early advantage before heading into singles play. Despite an opening 6–3 loss for freshman Karl Poling and sophomore Damian Rodriguez in the second doubles slot, Princeton rebounded with two consecutive wins to win doubles play. Freshman duo Justin Barki and Bill Duo won six games in a row after losing in the first set to win 6–1, and sophomore Ryan Seggerman and junior Payton Holden came back from a 3–5 disadvantage to win 7–6.
“The third doubles slot is always hard to predict, but we played really well as a team. Bill [Duo] helped me so much on the doubles court, and we were able to step up after losing the first game,” Barki said.
Despite the advantage from the doubles victories, the game was still very much up for grabs — Princeton needed to win three of the six singles matches to take the victory. Karl Poling (7–6, 6–2) and Bill Duo (6–1, 6–4) won in two sets each to put the Tigers in the driver’s seat. Damian Rodriguez (4–6, 6–1, 6–4) was then able to clinch the victory with his three-set battle in the third-singles slot, earning him the match ball. Payton Holden (1–6, 7–6, 6–2) put the icing on the cake soon after with another victory, putting Princeton on top of Penn, 5–2 in matches.
Emotions were high across all the match-ups, leading to points of controversy and argument regarding line calls in particular. There were multiple stoppages across the matches, in which players from both sides disputed line calls made by the opponent or umpire. At points, coaches even intervened to settle disagreements. For a conference matchup with Penn, however, such contention is nothing new.
“Princeton’s rivalry with Penn goes back a little bit since we’re just up the road from each other. [The Ivy League] also doesn’t have a conference tournament, so you’re playing to win the league so all the matches are very close and highly contested,” Pate said.
The Tigers, now 1–0 in conference play, will host two more Ivy League matches next week against Dartmouth on Saturday and Harvard on Sunday, both of which the coach expects to be just as intense.
“The [Ivy] League has never been this deep,” Pate said. “There are probably at least six teams vying for an NCAA tournament at-large berth, and we’re going to keep doing everything we can to come out on top.”