Courtesy of Yale Sports Publicity
Photo courtesy of the Stamford Times
NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Numerous Yale undergraduates have competed in the qualifying events of New Haven's Pilot Pen International. Marc Powers '13, the first Ivy tennis player to win the league rookie and player of the year simultaneously, was the first Bulldog to get a spot in Pilot Pen's main draw. Yale's top player took full advantage of the opportunity and nearly pulled off a major doubles upset today in front of a hometown crowd in the friendly confines of the Yale courts.
Powers and 16-year-old Hopkins School star Nolan Paige put a scare into the world's No. 7 ranked doubles team of South African Wesley Moodie and Dick Norman of Belgium. Paige and Powers fell to the professionals 6-4, 6-2 on court 1.
"Our goal was to get a few games and try to be competitive with them while making it fun for the fans," said Powers, who impressed the experienced pros with his ball striking.
The veteran ATP Tour players towered over the 5-foot-9 Powers (Stamford, Conn.) and Paige (Fairfield, Conn.), who is five inches taller. It looked like men (6-8 Norman, 6-5 Moodie) against boys until the middle of the first set. Moodie and Norman had impressive credentials; they beat the No. 1 doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan at this year's Wimbledon Quarterfinals and also made the semifinals at the French Open. You can imagine how intimidating the big guys were for the local stars.
"It's difficult playing a team that you don't know much about, and they don't have much experience," said Moody of the two local players. "They played some good tennis, and we played well enough to win."
The heavily favored team took a 3-0 lead in the first set and allowed Powers and Paige just two points before the smaller and younger stars rallied back to even things at 3-3 and then 4-4.
"We let them back. You don't want to give away the lead, especially against inexperienced players," said Moodie, who learned of his opponents' backgrounds just before the start of the match.
Powers and Paige got more seasoned as the match wore on, though the veterans never seemed overly concerned. "We had a chance to make them tighten up. We started to relax and go for our returns," said the Yale star.
Paige, ranked among the top 16-year-olds in the USTA, brought Powers over to his high school courts to warm up before the match. The Hopkins courts are less than a mile from the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale. They went from Paige's home courts to the place Powers and the Bulldogs call home.
Court 1 at the Pilot Pen, which has bleachers on one side, is situated next to Yale Avenue and stone's throw from stadium court, where another Fairfield player, James Blake, was playing his second-round match at the same time. That didn't stop more than 800 fans from staying put for the entire doubles match.
"We had quite a group of supporters, and it was really great when we began to make it a good match," said Powers. When we started to win games, it was unbelievable."
"That was the loudest crowd I've ever experienced," said Norman.
While Norman and Moodie shuttled out of the Connecticut Tennis Center after their press conference, likely heading for dinner and a night on the town in New Haven, Powers and Paige acted their age. The long-time friends, who were featured in their first press conference and handled it very well, headed to the Pilot Pen's Sports Zone to play some mini tennis with friends.
In other notable Ivy action, Harvard's James Blake won his first-round match over Spain's Pere Riba-Madrid, 6-0, 6-1, before falling to seventh-seeded Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine 6-4, 6-2 in the second round.