The Harvard men's tennis team narrowly averted disaster Saturday afternoon, squeaking out a 5-4 win over Brown in Providence, R.I.
"We knew that Brown was really good," Co-Captain Peter Palandjian said. "But I didn't think we'd be that close to going down."
The match started badly for the Crimson as Brown quickly took the first sets in each of the top three singles matches. At first singles, Brown's Tim Donovan led 6-1 over Larry Scott. Palandjian was down 6-1 to Gordie Ernst at number two, and number three Bill Stanley trailed Amin Khoury, 6-2.
"Larry, Bill and I lost our first sets in about 20 minutes," Palandjian said. "You could tell there was a bit of a panic."
Palandjian and Stanley were able to recover; Scott was not. Palandjian rallied for a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 win. Stanley swept through his next two sets, notching a 1-6, 6-2, 6-0 triumph.
Donovan, however, rumbled on. The Brown freshman started where he left off in the first set, using his strong passing shots to blunt Scott's attacking game. The final score was 6-1, 6-1.
Brown showed its depth by taking fourth and sixth singles. The Bruins Kevin Wyman defeated Arkie Engle at number four, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, while Steve Ryu beat the Crimson's Darryl Laddin at sixth singles, 7-6, 6-4.
Paul Palandjian's 6-3, 6-1 win at fifth singles brought the team score to 3-3 with the three doubles matches remaining.
Harvard took the first set in two of the three doubles contests. But when darkness forced the action to be moved to indoor courts, all three contests were even at one set apiece.
At that point, the Crimson walked away from the courts and the various distractions and held an impromptu team meeting.
"We got together and decided to stop worrying about losing and stop getting involved in squabbles with the other team," Peter Palandjian said. "There was also a fairly partisan crowd."
Harvard proceeded to quickly win the decisive sets in first and third doubles to guarantee the team victory. Scott and Engle defeated Khoury and Wyman, 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, and Peter Palandjian and freshman Hank Parichabutr combined for a 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 verdict over John Friend and Donovan.
Second doubles--with the team match already decided--was academic. Brown and Harvard both squandered third set match point chances before the Bruins prevailed in a tie-breaker, 5-7, 6-3, 7-6.
The unexpectedly close shave with defeat may spur the Crimson as it enters the home stretch of its season and moves towards a potential berth in the NCAA team competition, held in May in Athens, Ga.
The Crimson has had some unexpectedly difficult matches in the last few weeks, and the players believe there's a definite reason for their problems.
"The team hasn't been working as hard as we could have," Peter Palandjian said.
"In the last few weeks we've been complacent," said Stanley. "We've been getting too big for our britches."
"[The close Brown match] should help us," Peter Palandjian said. "It'll anger some of us, push us to work harder. Overall, it was a good learning lesson for us. All of us, at some point, thought we might definitely lose to a team we should not have lost to."