Like a typical Dartmouth student, Dovydas Sakinis ’16 spends most days attending classes and frequenting the library, but, for a few weeks each year, the Big Green tennis player represents Lithuania in the Davis Cup, one of international tennis’s biggest stages.
The Davis Cup brings together players from around the world to compete in three days of elimination rounds.
“The Davis Cup is a lot of fun because a lot of people come out to watch,” tennis co-captain Xander Centenari ’13 said. “Dovydas plays singles and doubles and his doubles partner Ricardas Berankis is top 100 in the world, so it’s a really high level of tennis.”
On Feb. 3, Lithuania defeated Cyprus in the first round of the Europe and Africa bracket by a final score of 4-1. With 4,000 people in attendance and an additional 600,000 people watching from home, Sakinis defeated Rares Cuzdriorean, a Roman professional with Cypriot citizenship, 6-2, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3.
“What I remember most was when we beat Great Britain in 2010,” Sakinis said. “No one even expected us to have a chance because of the rankings difference and everything, but we won 3-2 after being down 2-1. The deciding match came down to 6-4 in the fifth set, which was crazy. We were shouting and I lost my voice the next Monday.”
Although Davis Cup competition features some of the world’s highest-level tennis, many countries use it as a pipeline to help emerging players gain match experience without jeopardizing college eligibility. From a very young age, Sakinis gained recognition by winning youth tournaments in Lithuania and was invited to join the Lithuanian Davis Cup team as a hitting partner when he was just 16.
The Lithuania captain put Sakinis in the deciding match, known in the competition as a rubber, even though he was just supposed to be a practice player.
“I played a guy who had been ranked as high as 42 in the world. I won pretty easy, but I have no idea how,” Sakinis said.
Sakinis grappled with the decision to commit his life to professional tennis, but ultimately chose to play at Dartmouth in order to study while improving his game. Lithuania did not offer enough elite tennis players for Sakinis to practice with.
“Here in college there is a team of players,” Sakinis said. “We have 12 guys here and they work hard and you can improve a lot every day. When I played the Davis Cup this year, a lot of people said that I improved my game and I’m very happy about that.”
Dartmouth’s academic reputation and coach Chris Drake’s tennis connections helped bring Sakinis to Hanover.
“A family friend of mine is a friend of the Lithuanian Davis Cup captain, so he told me about Sakinis and how he was really smart and wanted to go to college in the U.S.,” Drake said. “He was being recruited by the University of Virginia, Ohio State [University] and the University of North Carolina, but he always maintained he wanted to go to the best academic school he could.”
Sakinis was so confident in his decision to attend Dartmouth that he committed before coming to Hanover on an official visit.
“He really gets along with [coach Drake], and it seems like Dovydas and coach Drake saw eye to eye when it came to how they approached tennis and what they both wanted him to get out of the college tennis experience,” Erik Nordahl ’16 said.
As a high school junior, Sakinis was ranked as high as No. 70 in the world and was among the top five juniors in Europe.
“He’s a really good player, and it’s helped our team to be able to practice and train with him each day because he brings such a high level of play,” Drake said. “I think he’s done a good job because it’s not easy to come from Lithuania to Dartmouth and ingrain yourself with the team, and I think the guys on the team have done a good job as well in making him feel comfortable and at home.”
Sakinis is currently ineligible to play for the Big Green due to an NCAA technicality, which stipulates that college athletes cannot sign a professional contract.
“When I was 16 years old, I played a few ITF Futures tournaments here in the U.S. and during the sign-in process I was asked if I am pro or amateur,” Sakinis said. “Nobody explained it to me and of course I said pro, twice. NCAA declares that this process is like signing a professional contract.”
Sakinis practices with the team and remains focused and committed even though he cannot compete until next fall.
“I can tell you from my point of view and from trying to imagine if I were in his shoes and I don’t know if I could handle the situation with the same kind of focus he has,” Nordahl said. “It’s extremely impressive and it’s extremely valuable to every member on the team.”