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Vol.25, No. 19 Apr. 7, 2000

Menís Tennis Team Seeks Nothing Less Than an Ivy Championship This Spring

By Jason Hollander

Fueled by last fall's narrow loss to Harvard in the finals of the ECAC Championships, the Columbia men's tennis team is on a mission with one specific goal this spring: winning the Ivy League title.

"It's our priority to take the title," says Coach Bid Goswami. "I'd be very disappointed if we don't win the Ivies."

Goswami remembers all too well the 4-3 defeat his team suffered against the Crimson after leading 3-0. "We had them down. We just didn't put them away," says Goswami, who wants his players to consider that loss as they prepare for a rematch against Harvard on Friday, April 7. "I keep reminding them of the pain from that match."

Winners of six straight matches, the men's team has compiled an 11-5 record this season and hovers around the #50 ranking nationally. Goswami notes that the team's rigorous schedule, which has included matches against national powers like Virginia, Kansas and William & Mary, has made his players more mature and experienced. "I knew we might lose a few," says Goswami of the difficult opponents, "But in the long run, I think it will pay off."

Fresh from a huge win at the Rice Invitational where the Lions were victorious against Rice, West Virginia and Iowa, and against Cornell last weekend, the team is finally healthy again after being plagued with injuries in the fall and winter.

One of the deepest and strongest teams in years, the Lions are led by College senior Salil Seshadri, a native of India who had never been to the U.S. before coming to Columbia, and junior Akram Zaman, a recent transfer who hails from Australia. Currently ranked as the #1 doubles team in the East Region and #17 nationally, Zaman and Seshadri also play #1 and #3 singles for the team, respectively. Zaman holds the #3 ranking for singles in the East Region and Seshadri is #12.

"We complement each other," Zaman says, of his and Seshadri's doubles success, which includes a 21-3 record. "It's important to gel with your partner. The weaknesses I have, he covers for, and vice-versa."

Around campus, the pair appear laid-back and easygoing, but on court, they transform into relentlessly attacking serve-and-volleyers. The aggressive play that Seshadri and Zaman subject their opponents to is effective because it is seen less and less on the competitive level. "The game has changed," says Seshadri. "Now most people just stand back and hit the crap out of the ball."

Standing back has never been a preference for either player. "In doubles, the key [to winning] is being good at net. Not many [doubles] teams have two guys who are comfortable at net. We have good instincts. It's pretty hard for other guys to pass us," says Seshadri, who was the Ivy League Player of the Year in 1998 and is the team's co-captain, along with the #2 singles player, junior Steve Millerman.

"Everyone they've faced they've just demolished," says Goswami of his #1 doubles team's performance in the East Region. Regarding their chances in the NCAA championships, Goswami believes, "If they're fit, they can absolutely win the doubles nationals. There aren't too many players, doubles-wise, who can play like them."

Both Seshadri and Zaman spent a short time on the professional circuit after high school, enjoying moderate success before choosing to come to play at the collegiate level. "I had to make a choice: get an education and be able to play tennis, or just play tennis," says Seshadri, who notes that his decision was an easy one. "Tennis was always secondary behind education."

Zaman likes the camaraderie and balance of playing as part of a team. "On the tour, it's every man for himself," he says. "Here, we all share the ups and downs. A lot of us are pretty good friends. We hang out off the court, and I think that helps us when we get on the courts."

The team faces a specific challenge as the end of the year approaches and they prepare for the season's final tournaments, which are all played on hard-surface courts. "We're the only Division I school that plays on clay courts," says Goswami of the Columbia tennis facility. Noting that his players often have to travel to area parks or as far as New Jersey to find hard courts they can train on, Goswami says, "I use it as a motivation factor. I tell them that it makes them tougher than the other teams."