Senior Profile: Isaac Gorelik’s impact on tennis

Senior Isaac Gorelik is pictured on April 28. Quan Tran / The Tufts Daily

“Everyone on our team knows Isaac has the best forehand in the country.”

This was tennis co-captain senior Jack Moldenhauer’s first thought in a message to the Daily about his classmate and co-captain Isaac Gorelik. On a typical spring day, Gorelik can be found sporting a monochromatic sweatsuit, equipped with a headband and a radiant smile as he trains with his teammates on the tennis courts next to Harleston Hall.

While his punishing forehand has helped him achieve national notoriety in his fourth year in Medford, his teammates will remember the senior more for his servant leadership and his natural ability to bring people together.

Gorelik hails from Weston, Massachusetts. While his hometown is only about a 20-minute drive from Medford, his journey to become a Jumbo was anything but straightforward.

Drawing inspiration from his older brother, “a Weston high school tennis legend,” as Gorelik described him, he first picked up a racket at five years old and began to take the sport more seriously at age 10, when his parents began enrolling him in lessons.

“I started playing tournaments when I was 12, and from then on, I was playing a lot,” Gorelik said. Tennis absorbed much of Gorelik’s time as he trained and competed frequently at a young age, but it wasn’t the only competitive activity he was involved in.

“I didn’t compete in anything else except ballroom dancing,” Gorelik said. While tennis and dancing may seem like a rare pairing, professional tennis player Jelena Ostapenko believes that dancing can help improve a player’s footwork, which can be a key advantage in between the lines.

While he’s currently ranked at No. 4 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Northeast singles rankings, Gorelik was not a highly sought after prospect on the junior tennis circuit. “I wasn’t a very strong recruit; a lot of coaches just said, ‘No, you’re not good enough.’”

As fate would have it, many of the schools that glossed over Gorelik on their recruiting searches have been on the Jumbos’ schedule this year and have had the chance to see what they missed out on.

In the end, Gorelik found Tufts, and it met all of his requirements. “I wanted a school with a really good academic reputation [and] a school where I could play tennis and something that is moderately big or urban, and Tufts is both. All the other NESCACs are smaller,” he said. 

Gorelik found an ideal environment in Medford but less than ideal team results in the spring of 2019. In his first season, men’s tennis finished 8–9 overall, with a 4–5 record in the NESCAC, and bowed out to Middlebury in the first round of the NESCAC tournament. On the positive side, Gorelik had plenty of opportunities to develop his game and was a regular starter in the singles brigade. Maybe more important, he was taught the foundation and expectations of this program.

“What surprised me was just how close everyone was on the team, how much time we spent together, and how badly guys wanted to win. … Guys were so hungry to do better,” Gorelik said.

With a 2021–22 roster of only 17 players, a major factor in the success of this team is its chemistry and the players’ trust in one another. Ending this regular season with a 15–1 record, Gorelik and his senior peers have clearly instilled a culture of winning — but what may be more impressive is their commitment to creating a genuine environment of inclusivity and welcomeness.

“[I] try to build a sense of community and spend a lot of time with the guys. I feel like it’s important, especially since we have so many guys who are international. We have four [first-years], three are international, the American kid’s from Idaho — they’re far from home” Gorelik said.

His true care for his teammates’ well being does not go unnoticed, and his effervescent spirit has helped shape the identity of this year’s squad.

“He does a really great job checking in on people, making sure people are doing well,” sophomore Corey Marley said.

“His happiness and character are a big reason why we consider our team chemistry to be so strong,” co-captain Moldenhauer wrote.

After the conclusion of this season, Gorelik will go back to his hometown of Weston and coach tennis at local Wightman Tennis Center. When the fall comes around, he plans to travel across the country to pursue a master’s degree in computer science at Stanford University and walk onto a well-regarded tennis team.

A data science major here at Tufts, Gorelik has enjoyed the rigor of challenging courses. 

“A lot of people dread [CS] 40, I loved it. … It’s almost like they just drop you in a new country and you have to find your way home. You either get lost or you get it done,” said Gorelik. 

Another course Gorelik highlighted was a required class he took in his second semester at Tufts.

“My freshman year, I loved my discrete math class in the spring with professor David Smith. … He conveyed everything in a way that felt relevant and interesting and piqued my curiosity,” he said.

Despite the pressure of finals and excitement surrounding graduation, Gorelick and his team have kept up a focus on both academics and athletics. After dropping a close 5–3 match to Middlebury in the NESCAC finals on May 8, Gorelik and the Jumbos finished their regular season as conference runners-up. The first round of the NCAA tournament began on Saturday, May 14.

While the NESCAC tournament began after this issue of the Daily went to press, the team’s aspirations extend far beyond the Northeast region. With strong chemistry, limitless depth and Gorelik in the No. 1 spot, it’s possible that this team’s season continues deep into May.