Senior Rishabh Sharda earns NCAA Division III national crown in three-set victory
For the first time in program history, a player from the Tufts men’s tennis squad has climbed to the top of the NCAA mountain, as senior Rishabh Sharda, A23, came from behind to pick up a thrilling 1-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory against Williams College’s Matthew Kandel in the 2023 NCAA Division III Men’s Singles Championships at the United States Tennis Association national campus in Orlando on May 21.
It was a long grind through the week for Sharda, who becomes Tufts’ first men’s tennis singles NCAA champion, while joining Boris Sorkin, A21, as individual national champ—Sorkin won back-to-back ITA Cup titles in 2018-19 and 2019-2020. It was also Tufts’ third all-time NCAA title in tennis for singles, as Sharda joined Julia Browne, A11, from 2010 and Elle Christensen from 2022 on the women’s side.
Sharda came into the match having had to play competitive tennis virtually every day for the last eight days, as he helped the Tufts men’s tennis squad (24-2) to a national runner-up finish through three grueling matches. After a day off on May 17, Sharda was right back into play the next day, with two wins, which got him into the round of 16. Sharda won a match on May 19 and another in the NCAA semifinals the following day, earning his right to play for the championship,
On May 21 in very warm conditions, Williams’ Matthew Kandel came out strong as he earned 69 percent of the points in the first set, which he won 6-1. As the match went along, though, Sharda put the pressure on Kandel with aggressive play, moving him from side to side.
The second set would be markedly different for Sharda, who won 64 percent of the points, including hammering Kandel’s second serve, winning all seven of those returns. He also took advantage of chances when he got them, as he converted all three break points to even the match at a set apiece with a 6-2 victory.
After a lengthy heat break, Sharda didn’t let the layoff affect his momentum. He broke serve at 0-1 after losing his serve in the opening game. That break would put Sharda in the driver’s seat the rest of the way, as he won the final six games of the set.
“It feels great—it’s been a long time coming for Tufts,” Sharda said after the match. “It’s amazing, not everyone gets to finish their career with a win, right?”
When asked about the impact that head coach Karl Gregor and the coaching staff has had on him, Sharda was at a loss. “I don’t even have words to describe that,” said Sharda. “I am the man I am today because of them. I came here without ever living in the United States. Coach gave me an opportunity to play on this team. They welcomed me with open arms. They’ve helped me day in, day out.”