Destroyed by Darius

At the Mike

After covering the Harvard men's squash team for the past three years, the only logical thing for me to do was to start playing squash.

Since I had seen the best, I wanted to play against the best. So I challenged Darius Pandole, Harvard's number-one squash player, to a match.

Mistake number one.

Pandole grew up playing in India, where he was the All-India Junior champion three times. He was named All-America and All-Ivy three times. He led the team to four Ivy and national titles.

In India, squash players use a soft ball, as opposed to the hard ball American players use. So Darius and I agreed to use a soft ball.

Mistake number two.

We scheduled the match for Friday. I showed up.

Mistake number three.

Was I worried? Yes.

The day before I played Darius, Harvard squash Coach Dave Fish and his assistant, Jon Anz, both promised me the number-one position on the team next year if I beat Darius.

That was all the incentive I needed. I started to have visions of beating Darius. I could see it now: "Michael Lartigue Defeats Princeton's Jeff Stanley; Harvard Gets Seventh Straight National Championship."

Michael Lartigue, "the phenomenon." I would be on the front pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, even The Harvard Crimson.

During the warm-up, I knocked several shots past Darius. I could see the fear in his eyes. He was wondering how I was able to hit three straight shots passed him. So was I.

To start the match, I pounced on his serve, hitting a reverse corner shot that died in front of him.

I thought, "This is easy. I can beat this guy in 20 minutes and still make dinner." Darius then informed me that you can only score on your serve when you play with a soft ball.

Bummer.

I proceeded to lose the next nine points and the first game.

It was time for me to regroup. I had to be realistic about my chances since I was just trounced, 9-0, in the first game. To add insult to injury, he had played five of the points over. So he really beat me 14-0. I decided to change my game plan. I decided to go for the big point or any point I could get.

The guy was barely breathing. I was running from side to side, chasing down balls. I quickly learned what it was like to get thrashed by one of the best Harvard squash players ever.

The second, third and fourth games were instant replays of the first. He won all three games by 9-0 scores. He was even kind enough to announce what kind of shots he had hit after he had taken the point. "A three-wall nick," he'd say. "A backhand, cross-court, drop knick. A reverse-boast."

Oh.

In the fifth game, he finally gave me the opening I needed. I was determined to make a good showing.

And I did. After forcing him to hit a tin shot, I scored my newly-patented "Lartigue backhand slam into a nick" for my first point of the day.

I was starting to put the pressure on him. Suddenly, I was not satisfied with one point. I wanted to win the game. I wiped my hands on the wall, like all good squash players.

However, Darius was able to get back his serve and score the next nine points to win the match.

But I had my one point. How many people can say they won a point from Harvard's number-one player?

We shook hands and got our bags. "It's my last big match before graduation," Darius said.

But he's forgetting about our rematch.

Next time, I'm determined to beat him. Or at least double my point total.