The University of Pennsylvania had another solid season with a 14-10 overall record and capped off the year with freshman Mikhail Bekker taking home the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award.
Bekker, a 17-year-old hailing from Russia, became the first Quaker to earn the individual honor since the award began in 1988. In his debut, the rookie went 20-13 overall and 2-5 in the Ancient Eight playing at the No. 1 and 2 singles. Bekker’s performances throughout the year also earned him a nomination for ITA Rookie of the Year and ITA Player to Watch. He was also given the Peter K. Riley Award by the Friars Senior Society of the University of Pennsylvania as the Freshman of the Year.
The Red and Blue started 2003 with an impressive showing at the Princeton/Farnsworth Invitational. In his first collegiate competition, Bekker advanced to the “B” Flight Finals where he fell to St. John’s David Nygen, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3. Junior Justin Lavner defeated Samir Ghia from Columbia, 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-1, in the first round of the “B” Flight singles, before falling to Michael Accordino from Columbia, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, in the second round.
Success continued at the 2003 ECAC Team Tennis Championships in New York, as the Quakers posted a 2-1 record. As the No. 9 seed heading into the tournament, Penn defeated Dartmouth and Princeton, but fell to top-seeded Harvard to finish the invitational at the No. 5-6 slot.
At the ECACs, the Quakers opened play with a 4-3 win over Dartmouth. Despite dropping the doubles point, Penn regrouped to win at No. 2, 4, 5 and 6 singles. Penn then moved on to the quarterfinal round to face No. 1 seed Harvard, where the team fell, 7-0. The Red and Blue then took on Princeton in the consolation round and defeated the Tigers, 5-2, for the first time in Head Coach Mark Riley’s tenure.
Bekker and junior both posted a 1-1 singles mark at the ITA Northeast Regional. Lynn defeated Rhode Island’s Dustin Parente, 6-0, 6-1, to advance to the second round, but fell to No. 17 Martin Wetzel from Harvard, 6-2, 6-1, to finish his run in the tournament. Bekker won his first round match against Princeton’s Andrew Lieu, 6-3, 6-4, before falling to No. 12 Nick Goldberg from Brown, 6-1, 6-4.
The Quakers had two weeks off before concluding their fall season at the annual Penn Classic. Sophomore Jimmy Fairbanks won the singles title of Flight “B” by defeating Martin Moore of the Columbia, 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 in the finals. Bekker went to the semifinals of Flight “A” before teaming with Lynn to reach the finals of the doubles tournament where they fell to Maryland, 8-6.
Penn opened the 2004 dual match season with a pair of wins against UMBC (6-1) and Richmond (4-3). After dropping a hard-fought match to American, Penn went on to win its next four matches against Boston College (5-2), Maryland (5-2), Rutgers (7-0) and Jacksonville (4-3).
Against Jacksonville, Fairbanks moved to a perfect 12-0 in singles play by defeating Brian Garfield, 7-5, 6-4. Three days later, Fairbanks would have his streak snapped as he and the Quakers fell to No. 32 Miami, 5-2. In a back-and-forth battle, Fairbanks slipped to Jeremiah Fuller, 6-4, 4-6 (10-6). In other match action, co-captain Craig Rubin and Bekker each recorded a point with a singles victory. Penn wrapped up their stay in Florida with a loss to Central Florida, 4-3.
With Spring Break over, the Quakers headed back to Philadelphia where they made quick work of St. Bonaventure, winning by a score of 6-1. Rubin’s 6-0, 6-1, victory at No. 3 singles gave the Red and Blue the match. Penn began the day by winning the doubles point with victories at Nos. 1 and 3. Junior Todd Lecher and Lavner won, 9-7, at No. 1 doubles, while Fairbanks and Anthony Pu paired at No. 3 for an easy 8-1 win. Little trouble would be had with Penn’s next two opponents, as the Quakers sank Navy, 6-1, and rolled over St. Joseph’s, 7-0.
The Red and Blue’s next test would be in the Ivy League opener at home against Princeton. Despite a 5-2 win in the fall, Penn could not pull out the victory, falling to the Tigers, 4-3. The Quakers started strong taking the doubles point behind an exciting 9-8 (9-7) victory by Fairbanks and Pu at the No. 2 spot. In the deciding singles match, Bekker took Darius Clayton to three sets, but fell, 6-7, 6-2, 6-2.
In between league matches, Penn earned two more victories on the year, defeating Army, 6-1 and Swarthmore, 5-2.
Seeking its first Ivy win of the year, Penn welcomed nationally ranked Brown to the Lott Tennis Courts. Despite several exciting highlights of the match, it was not enough to overtake the Bears, as the Quakers lost, 5-2. The No. 1 doubles team of Pu and Fairbanks battled with the Bears’ Jamie Cerretani and Adil Shamasdin (ranked No. 11 in the nation) but could not notch the victory falling, 9-7. In singles action, Lynn pulled out an exciting 1-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory over No. 87 Cerretani at the No. 1 position, while Fairbanks defeated Kris Goddard, 6-1, 6-3.
However, the Red and Blue would not have to wait long for their first Ivy victory as they defeated Yale, 5-2, at home the next afternoon. Lynn and Bekker recorded their second-straight doubles victory with an 8-6 victory at No. 2, while Rubin teamed with Lecher for an 8-2 win at No. 3. In singles play, Pu again was the clincher, as he beat Johnny Lu, 6-3, 6-2, 7-6(2) at No. 6. Bekker, Lecher and Rubin also posted singles wins en route to the Red and Blue's victory.
Penn could not seem to find their groove in league play, losing their final four matches of the year. The Quakers were nipped by Dartmouth, 4-3, and then shutout by Ivy Champion Harvard, 7-0. In the final weekend of competition, the Red and Blue fell to Columbia, 5-2, and Cornell, 5-2.
Having graduated no seniors, the men’s tennis team will remain intact next year as it looks to capitalize on the success of the 2003-04 season.
Written by Kelly McCarthy, athletic communications assistant