M. Tennis Looks Good at Ball State
The men's tennis team opened their season last weekend at the Ball State Invitational without star sophomore James Blake. After a busy summer season, highlighted by two wins at the U.S. Open Qualifiers and a tour with the USTA Summer All-America Team, Blake took the weekend off in preparation for big tournaments coming up next month.
Although they were also missing probable starters Scott Clark and Mike Passarella, the Crimson came through with a solid showing at the Ball State. Senior co-captain Kunj Majmudar battled his way to the semifinals of the A-Flight singles, where he dropped a tough three-set match (6-1, 1-6, 6-0) to Shlomo Shemesh of Butler University.
Majmudar is coming off his strongest season at Harvard. In 1997-98, he was awarded the EITA Sportsman of the Year Award, and broke into the top 100 in the national singles rankings. At the NCAA Tournament, he paired with Blake to beat the top doubles team in the country, John Roddick and Steven Baldas of Georgia.
"I thought I played pretty well this weekend. There were a lot of matches, so it was difficult to stay focused, but it was a good challenge," Majmudar said. "There were a lot of strong players there, and it helped our guys to get this much real tournament experience. We lost two great players, Tom [Blake] and Phil [Tseng], but we have some promising freshmen coming up, and I think we're looking strong nationally."
Junior John Doran, Harvard's other representative in the A-Flight singles, won his first round match, but couldn't get through the second round. He also teamed with freshman Cillie Swart to reach the semifinals in A-Flight doubles.
This was the first collegiate match for Swart, who is the second-ranked junior player in his native South Africa.
"The college scene is intense and competitive, different than tennis anywhere else," Swart said. "There are no easy matches here. I was really nervous, and didn't do well in the singles, but I was real happy with our doubles team."
Sophomore Andrew Styperek, playing in the B-flight singles, lost a tantalizingly close first match. Serving at 5-5 in the third set, he broke two strings, and dropped the game. His opponent, Nathan Crick of Illinois State, capitalized on Styperek's bad luck, and held serve to take the third set 7-5. Styperek bounced back to win three matches in the consolation round.
"I know I could have won that first match," Styperek said. "It was just bad luck, breaking those two strings. But the team did pretty well. We're still setting up, and feeling out the competition. It's tough because we only have indoor courts for practice, so we're not used to the wind and the feel of outdoor courts. We beat a lot of good players though, and we look strong for the rest of the season."
Sophomore Anthony Barker had two thrilling victories on the way to the C-Flight semifinals. He fought back from early deficits for two three-set wins in the first two rounds, but fell to Indiana State's Gavin Foulston in the semis.
"Some of the younger guys played great this tournament," said assistant coach Peter Mandeau. "Andrew has especially showed significant improvement in his game. He was close to the bottom of the line-up last year, but now he's moving towards success at a collegiate level."
Junior Nik Johnston, playing in the C-Flight, was forced to withdraw with an injury after reaching the quarterfinals.
"This was an excellent first outing for the team," Mandeau said. "It was a great opportunity for us to play a lot of matches. We were playing in a different part of the country so we saw some new players. The goal of the fall season is to give players as much exposure as possible.... John and Cillie showed solid potential, and they should be prepared for the more important events later in the season."
The fall season swings into full season next weekend with the University of Kentucky Invitational. The Crimson will bring a full varsity squad, including Blake, Passarella and Clark.
The following weekend, the team plays the ECAC fall championships, which is the most important event of the fall. It is the only team tournament in the fall, and the winner gets an automatic bid to the National Indoor Championships in Washington, where the Harvard squad could face off against Stanford, LSU, Georgia and other top-ranked teams.