Sorkin wins second straight ITA Cup Div. III national championship

Boris Sorkin, a junior, poses for a portrait after winning his second consecutive national championship for tennis at the ITA Cup at Berry College in Rome, Ga. on Oct. 19. Courtesy Josh Belandres

In an extraordinary finale to his fall season, fourth-seeded junior co-captain Boris Sorkin won the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Cup singles national championship for the second straight year at Berry College in Rome, Ga., on Saturday. Sorkin defeated Middlebury’s Stan Morris in three tight sets, 7–6 (5), 3–6, 6–1.

After a shot by Morris sailed long past the baseline, Sorkin turned to his team and roared with triumph as he shook his fists by his side, “Come on! Let’s go!” 

While usually an exceptionally reserved player on the court, the St. Petersburg, Russia native revealed his celebration, allowing him to let out all the nerves he’d bottled up during the match.

“I’m not really emotional during matches. I think that was the only point in the match that I actually made a sound,” Sorkin said, smiling. “I was very nervous in the end, and with all that tension built up, sometimes you just get relieved after the match is finished and just everything comes out. I played a lot of matches before it, three on Thursday and three on Friday. So, I was really happy.”

The championship was a rematch of the ITA New England singles final on Sep. 29, where Sorkin defeated Morris 6–3, 6–3. However, Morris brought a new game plan and pushed Sorkin to the brink during their three-set thriller, which included a rain delay in the second set.

“Morris played in a really smart way,” Sorkin said. “He only played two matches before the final, but I played six. He played very different tennis from when we played the final of ITA New Englands. He tried to make longer rallies, and I was getting really tired because of it.”

Although Morris’ consistency and patience tested Sorkin, the Jumbo was able to dig deep during the most crucial moments of the match. In the first set tiebreaker, Sorkin, the “Russian Rocket,” recovered from down 3–0 to win 7–6 (5). Then, the Jumbo rallied hard after losing the second set, dialing up the aggression to seize an early lead for a 6–1 victory in the third set.

“I just tried to stay focused when I went down 3-0 [in the first set tiebreaker],” Sorkin said. “I had three unforced errors, [so] I told myself, ‘No. No more. I’m not gonna give him another free point.’ [In the third set] you just give everything you have. He gave me some opportunities early on, and I changed my game and started attacking more. I normally play by just putting the balls in and forcing the error [from my opponent]. But I started giving my shots more power and went to the net a couple of times. I also served really well in the third set and that helped a lot.”

As if winning the ITA Cup in singles weren’t enough, Sorkin also competed alongside first-year Josh Belandres in the doubles draw as well. The duo lost their opening match in a close three-set affair to Johns Hopkins University senior Joseph Cartledge and senior Austin Gu — who finished last year ranked No. 16 nationally in the ITA Div. III doubles rankings — 7–6 (4), 3–6, 1–0 (5). Still, Sorkin and Belandres emerged victorious in two consolation matches.

Belandres later reflected on their strengths as a doubles team and the special opportunity to play in the ITA Cup as a first-year, especially alongside Sorkin.

“It was really special for me,” Belandres said. “Awesome way to end the fall season, but wish we could’ve played a little better. Just cheering on Boris in singles was really awesome. You know, it’s a team sport. It’s always great to root for him. [When we play doubles] Boris’ main strength is from the baseline. He’s super solid from back there. It helps just knowing that Boris will cover me if I go for it [a poach volley] too early. My volleys are my strength and closing [the net], trying to take [balls in] the middle. But we’re playing our best when we’re both at net.”

While Sorkin and Belandres competed at the ITA Cup, the rest of the team competed in the final tournament of the fall — the Wesleyan Invitational. Aside from Sorkin’s victory, first-year Rishabh Sharda also brought home a title for the Jumbos on Sunday by winning the Wesleyan Invitational A Flight Singles championship. Sharda scraped back from a one-set deficit to defeat Middlebury senior Alex Vanezis, 3–6, 6–2, 10–3.

Sharda later reflected back on the title, his second for the Jumbos after winning the Middlebury Invitational B Singles championship at the beginning of the season. 

“It was my sixth match in two days,” Sharda said. “By the end of the second set, my opponent and I were wearing down. So when it was all finished, I was feeling really relieved. It felt awesome. It was pretty satisfying to pull it off, especially as the last match of the fall season. Not making too many unforced errors and really attacking his backhand side helped me.”

Tufts had several other players make deep runs at Wesleyan. Senior co-captain Ethan Bershtein and junior Owen Bartok lost semifinal matches in the C singles. Bartok and Sharda also fell in the semifinals of the B doubles.

Including Sharda’s win at Wesleyan, Tufts tallied an impressive seven tournament titles this fall. Sophomore Isaac Gorelik won A singles, Sharda won B singles, the team of Sorkin and Belandres seized the A doubles and the team of Bartok and senior Ben Biswas took the B doubles final all at the Middlebury Invitational on Sept. 15. Sorkin also defended his ITA New England title on Sept. 29 along with the ITA Cup Div. III singles national championship.

After one of the Jumbos’ most promising fall preseasons in several years, coach Karl Gregor noted his optimism looking forward to the spring season.

“This fall was definitely a right step in the process,” Gregor said. “It has validated some of our hard work and belief that we’re as good as anybody. But it’s the fall, and the fall doesn’t translate to the spring always. I think it’s gotten a lot of guys even more hungry. We undoubtedly have the ability to put together against anyone five wins [to clinch the overall match]. I’m very optimistic, but a lot of other things still have to pan out. The guys have to work and stay healthy.”

Gregor added that there is plenty for the team to improve on during the offseason this winter.

“[For some it’s] continuing to really work on their speed, quickness and explosiveness, for some others to add a little bit of strength. We’ll have to be deliberate with each guy and then be giving everyone an offseason project. Like a couple guys have been working on improving their serve in the fall.”

The Jumbos open their spring season at home against Babson College on March 7. Then, they’ll travel out to California for their spring break trip to play several top teams on the West Coast, including California Institute of Technology and Pomona-Pitzer.