Four years ago, five racquet-wielding high school tennis stars came to the Yard and quickly took hold in the ranks of the Harvard men's tennis team. Today, only three remain with the program, which they've helped build to a nationally ranked powerhouse: Captain Adam Beren, Warren Grossman, and Howard Sands.
The most well-known of the three, Sands has played in the number one spot for most of the four years. Presently ranked in the top 10 nationally, Sands is known by teammates as a player who doesn't like to lose, and seldom does so.
Grossman who plays in the number two spot, is probably the most underrated player of the three. He is seen in Sand's shadow by some, because he has a similar style of play and has been seeded below him most of the four years.
Beren captain of the team both his junior and senior years, last year garnered All-American ranking as Sand's doubles partner.
While all three have contributed to the growth of the program. Beren has the distinction of leaving an indelible mark on Harvard tennis. The new Beren Tennis Center, donated by his father, bears both of their names. And it is Beren who seems to have grown the most through his experience with Harvard tennis.
"I learned a lot about life through tennis," Beren says. "I see it more as a sport, not a life." He adds, "Winning and losing are not that important to me anymore. I've learned that people are still people whether they win or lose a tennis match."
Beren's view of the sport distinguishes him from his fellow leaders, who are best known for their fierce competitive spirit. Although the Wichita, Kan., native spent most of his youth with a tennis racquet in hand, he remembers himself as being "forced into playing, then I grew to like it."
He had heard of Sands on the national circuit on which they both played as young teens, and says that was one of the reasons he chose Harvard after winning the state high school championship his senior year.
Sands grew up in Los Angeles and played at Palisades High School with five other nationally ranked players, and says he always had some aspirations for becoming a pro tennis player. He started in the game at the age of six and a half, and was on the circuit by the age of 10.
"I was always very serious about tennis," Sand says. "I think I was always working towards being pro: it wasn't until this year that I decided I would like to play pro."
Whereas his teammates have thought of turning pro, Grossman took a route rarely touched by members of top ranked tennis squads: he juggled a pre med curriculum and worked tennis around that. On a team with social science concentrators, Grossman says he has gone through several stages in his tennis. His game has fluctuated along with the degree of difficulty he's faced as a Biology major.
Growing up in Great Neck, N. Y., Grossman learned his tennis a the Pro Washington Tennis Academy, where Vitas Gerulaitis and John McEnroe also mastered their games. He played on the Eastern Tennis Association tournament circuit, ranking third in the state his senior year. He never made it to the national circuit, because he spent the summer after his senior year out with mononucleosis.
Grossman only considered Ivy League schools, a selection that suggests a different set of priorities than Sands and Beren, who put more weight on tennis in their college decisions.
The Leverett resident's commitment to academics and his disciplined approach to balancing both is something that team members respect.
Says netman Bruce Diker. "I don't think there are too many people playing at his level who have also gotten into med school."