In professional tennis, two players go head-to-head in a civil atmosphere while crowds sit silently during each point, applauding when the action stops. College tennis is nothing like that. In tense league matches, rowdy fans cheer wildly. The players usually lead the charge, shouting after winning rallies to let their teammates — and their opponents — know that momentum is on their side.
The Princeton men’s tennis team had plenty of occasions to yell this season as the Tigers, ranked No. 53 in the nation, had their most successful spring in two decades, winning their first six Ivy League matches to set up an April 17 showdown at also-unbeaten Cornell in Princeton’s season finale.
The Tigers lost the doubles point to the Big Red, dropping tiebreakers on the first and third courts. That proved to be the difference as the teams split the six singles matches. Cornell clinched the league’s automatic berth to the NCAA Championships, though Princeton still had a chance to earn a share of its first conference title since 1988 if Cornell were to lose its final match at Columbia (played after the deadline for this issue of PAW).
The face of Princeton’s team was Matija Pecotic ’13, a lefty from Malta who motivates himself by quoting Mike Tyson lines for all to hear. Pecotic dropped only two sets en route to a perfect Ivy season at the No. 1 singles position.
In an April 10 home match against Harvard’s Jonathan Pearlman — a tall, muscular junior who looks more like a tight end than a tennis player — Pecotic found himself down 40–30 in the first game when an incoming shot tipped off the top of the net and bounced softly into no-man’s land. Pecotic went for broke, unleashing a flat forehand down the sideline that bounced a foot inside the border.
Two unforced errors later, Pecotic won the game. Shouts rang through the Lenz Tennis Center: “Break on [court] one!” With six concurrent singles matches separated by only a few feet, hearing about these shifts in momentum can give teammates a psychological edge.
“Toward the end of last year, Alex Faust [’11] and Charlie [Brosens ’10] were always really positive and very intense,” Pecotic said. “As I tried to do what they did, I realized that my game was suddenly becoming better, and it [was] affecting other players.”
Pecotic was not the only player to give the Tigers a boost. One week after the Harvard match, Augie Bloom ’14 took a 4–0 lead against Columbia’s John Yetimoglu with a dizzying array of shots to the corners. “What is going on? He’s playing out of his mind!” Yetimoglu shouted. Bloom, who went 6–1 in Ivy singles play, dropped the second set but won the match in a third-set tiebreaker.
After winning intense points, Princeton players on all courts would yell, “NTG! NTG!” The three-letter chant seemed confusing until the crowd would join in, shouting about the opponent, “He’s got nowhere to go!”
“That started in the Brown match — I had just played a couple of really solid games, and [assistant coach Chris Hoeland] comes up to me and goes, ‘Nowhere to go,’ ” Pecotic said. “I kept saying and saying it, and I could see that it was frustrating the opponent. ... Then you could hear it from other courts, and it became one of our leading philosophies.”