Tennis ace on ball at championships

By Tim Murphy

With a cool confidence belying her inexperience, women’s tennis first-year phenom Vindya Dayananda capped off a stellar debut season by earning the ultimate honor for any college athlete.

Taking on the best at the NCAA singles championships, Dayananda split a pair of matches to earn the program’s first All-American certificate in six years and only its second such award ever. The UAA Rookie of the Year secured the honor with a 7–6 (3), 6–2 first-round victory over Swarthmore third-year Sonya Reynolds before falling in the next round to fellow first-year Katie Tabb of Washington & Lee 7–5, 6–2 at Santa Cruz Saturday. The opening-match win allowed Dayananda to accomplish what only Karen Lui (A.B. ’00) had ever before achieved for the Maroons. Liu was an All-American her senior year.

Faced with a challenging veteran opponent in the first round, Dayananda showed her resolve en route to earning the win. After falling behind a break in the first set, she rallied to force a tiebreaker. Despite repeatedly falling behind early in games, she fought back with enough tenacity to force deuces and stay alive, and never trailed in the first-set breaker. Things were a little bit easier in the second set, as she jumped out to an early lead and cruised the rest of the way for the momentous sweep.

“She played outstanding and was able to close up,” head coach Marty Perry said. “She played a lot cleaner, with a lot more confidence.”

Having already attained her goal, Dayananda was playing with house money. Up against a brawler in the Sweet Sixteen, she was forced to go all in. The first set against Tabb started off at a breakneck pace, with breaks on each of the first three games, before the General held to take the advantage. Although the Maroons’ ace came back, she was broken late, giving the set to Tabb. While her strong play continued, the tight first set presented the best opportunity for Dayananda in the match. With Tabb’s powerful serve picking up steam, she jumped out to a quick lead and never looked back to advance.

The General would go on to lose in the quarterfinals to Muhlenberg fourth-year Amy Schmidt.

The loss brought to an end a remarkable season for the South Sider. After an impressive career in the youth circuit touring South Asia, she took her polished clay-court game to an entirely new environment and flourished almost immediately.

After impressing with her performance in three matches last fall, Dayananda started the spring at first singles for a Maroons squad that went 13–8 the year before her arrival. Embracing the challenge, she rose up in the regional rankings as the season progressed and took the team with her. During one particularly torrid stretch from February 12 to April 2 in which the squad won 12 of 13 matches, the first-year went 9–3 with four wins against regionally-ranked foes. She outdid herself at the Midwest Invite April 7–8, knocking off regionally third-ranked Lauren Hom of Gustavus Adolphus and regionally second-ranked Elizabeth Maclellan of Wheaton.

Aided by the strong play of Dayananda and the leadership of veterans fourth-year Annie Miller and third-year Ade Omodele-Lucien, the Maroons advanced to the NCAA regionals for the first time in history, where they lost in the first round to Wheaton. While the team fell short at regionals with a depleted squad, Dayananda’s regular season performance and number two ranking in the Central were enough to earn her spot as an unseeded entrant in the field of 32 at the NCAA singles competition.

Despite the loss Saturday, Dayananda’s performance in Santa Cruz shows that she has what it takes to compete at the highest level of collegiate tennis. Competing against the nation’s best, she more than held her own and established a level of excellence that she’ll look to sustain next spring.

“Mentally, she took her game to another level. She was focused and confident, and she had a very good time,” Perry said. “She proved she can play with anyone in the country. It’s going to help her drastically next year. Knowing what level of competition is out there, it’ll motivate her to work on her game.”