NASHVILLE, TENN. – In a match that lived up to its billing, No. 16 Columbia men’s tennis defeated No. 19 Vanderbilt 4-3 in front of a raucous crowd at the Currey Tennis Center on Sunday afternoon.
The match played out like a good sports movie. Great tennis played in front of boisterous fans, but at the end of three and half hours, there was one court playing – No. 1 singles.
As Winston Lin’s toughness showed in a gritty, three-set match, so did Columbia’s.
The Lions were down 1-0 after losing the doubles point. Lin and Mike Vermeer won easily at No. 3, 8-2, while No. 12 Ashok Narayana and Max Schnur lost to the No. 4 doubles team of Austin Gonzales and Ryan Lipman at No. 1. Bert Vancura and Richard Pham lost at No. 2 doubles 8-7 (7-2) in a tie-breaker that extended doubles play for a full hour.
With the temperature in the mid-80s, decent humidity and blazing sun, it was the hottest day either team had played in all year, but both teams played well through the conditions.
Vameer won his first set at No. 6 rather quickly, 6-1. Lin lost his first set to Gonzales 6-2 shortly thereafter, as did Schnur at No. 2 (6-3). Vancura took his first set 6-4, but Dragos Ignat and Ashok Narayana’s first sets at No. 3 and No. 4 were much longer. Narayana pulled out a gritty tie-break win 7-6 (7-4), while Ignat lost 7-5. Lin won his second set, 6-3 to send No. 1 singles to a third. To give a perspective on time, Lin was starting his third set as Ignat was finishing his first.
At that point, Columbia had started to pull away at No. 5 and No. 6. Vermeer was cruising in the second set before Ryan Smith came back and went up 5-4. As Vermeer tried to close out his match, Vancura was up two breaks at No. 5. Vancura won his second set 6-3, just seconds before Vermeer clinched his match at 7-5, to give Columbia the 2-1 lead.
“It was really important for us to win those two matches (No. 5 and No. 6),” Vermeer said. “Going up 2-1 gives a lot of energy to the others guys to keep fighting.”
Schnur continued to rally on court 2, sending his second set to a tie breaker. As Schnur lost 6-3, 7-6 (2) at No. 2, Narayana was battling leg cramps up two breaks at No. 4. As Narayana put his match away with the 6-4 win in the second set, Lin was up 4-0 in the third set at No. 1, with Ignat still in the second set at No. 3.
“I started to cramp at 4-0,” Lin said. “I’ve been sick, so I wasn’t hydrated enough. I had to choose my moments when to expend energy. I gave up games when he served, and I put it all out there when I served. At 5-2 he (Gonzales) started playing really well. I think he knew I was cramping but there was nothing I could do. When I was serving at 5-4, I was just hoping I could battle. It was a crazy, tough match.”
Up 5-4, Lin served for the set and the match, sending Columbia to the NCAA Round of 16 for the first time in school history and just the second time in Ivy League history.
“I think all of us would agree, that if we want one guy out there at the end, it’s Winston (Lin),” Vancura said. “He played so well and he was so tough. It was our goal all year - make it to Georgia.”
Bid Goswami, The Columbia Tennis Alumni and Friends Head Coach of Men's Tennis, summed up the match perfectly.
"It was all courage. Every kid fought with all they had. Ashok had to underhand serve at one point because of cramps. All the work our kids do, that is why we play another day. Vanderbilt is a good team. To beat them on their court, in front of a great crowd is a tough thing to do. They beat Georgia here. I am so proud of all of them. Instead of going to Disney, we're going to Athens."
#16 Columbia 4, #19 Vanderbilt 3
1. #17 Winston Lin (CU) def. #21 Gonzales Austin (VU) 2-6, 6-3, 6-4
2. #59 Ryan Lipman (VU) def. Max Schnur (CU) 6-3, 7-6 (7-2)
3. Kris Yee (VU) def. Dragos Ignat (CU) 7-5, 6-3
4. Ashok Narayana (CU) def. Rhys Johnson (VU) 7-6 (7-4), 6-4
5. Bert Vancura (CU) def. Suresh Eswaran (VU) 6-4, 6-3
6. Mike Vermeer (CU) def. Ryan Smith (VU) 6-1, 7-5
1. #4 Gonzales Austin/Ryan Lipman (VU) def. #12 Ashok Narayana/Max Schnur (CU) 8-4
2. Suresh Eswaran/Ryan Smith (VU) def. Bert Vancura/Richard Pham (CU) 8-7 (7-2)
3. Winston Lin/Mike Vermeer (CU) def. Rhys Johnson/Pen Binet (VU) 8-2
Columbia 22-1; National ranking #16
Vanderbilt 17-11; National ranking #19
Order of finish: Doubles (3,1,2); Singles (5,6,2,4,3,1)
NCAA Men's Tennis Tournament
Columbia advances to the Sweet 16