After the Harvard men's tennis team dropped a 4-3 decision to Columbia on April 7, it knew it would have to stay almost perfect the rest of the way to win the Ivy League title. The Crimson proceeded to win three straight Ivy League matches, including an important win over a tough Princeton squad.
So when the team traveled to Brown on Friday, it might have seemed as if the hardest challenge had passed. Instead, the Bears (12-11, 4-3 Ivy League) upset the Crimson in a closely contested 4-3 match. The loss ended Harvard's chance to defend its Ivy League title and also eliminates the chance for a NCAA tournament appearance.
On Saturday, Harvard returned home and promptly squashed Yale, 6-1. The Elis had no chance as the Crimson played tough from top to bottom.
Harvard 6, Yale 1
On Earth Day, the Crimson made a conscious effort to preserve something very important--its home-winning streak. Harvard (13-11, 4-2) extended its streak to 40 matches by beating the overmatched Yale Bulldogs. A steady rain forced the match indoors to the Murr Center, but the change of venue hardly mattered.
Harvard started off strong by sweeping the doubles matches. A healthy Mike Rich teamed up with junior Anthony Barker to score first for Harvard, winning 8-5 at No. 3 over Daren Plookhoy and Ryan Coyle. Co-captain Joe Green and freshman Dave Lingman then clinched the doubles point with an 8-6 defeat of Scott Mayo and Greg Royce at No. 2. Sophomore Cillie Swart and co-captain John Doran sealed the sweep with a win at No. 1, beating Scott Carleton and Chris Shackleton, 8-6.
Harvard continued its dominance in the singles. Green put the first singles point on the board at No. 3, taking out Shackleton in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3. Doran, the Crimson's top seed, easily beat Carleton, 6-1, 6-2. The clincher came at No. 4, when Barker easily dispatched Ryan Smith, 6-1, 6-4. Swart lost at No. 6, 7-6 (8), 6-1 to Kevin Park, but the Crimson picked up wins at Nos. 2 and 5 for a final score of 6-1.
"We had a point to prove," Doran said. Harvard coach Dave Fish '72 also agreed that the match was an important win.
"The Harvard-Yale match is always a big match because it gives everyone a chance to compete," said Fish, referring to the match's unique format of playing exhibition matches in addition to the normal varsity games. "We came out ready to play and really went after them."
Brown 4, Harvard 3
The Yale match didn't mean much, however, because the damage to the Crimson had already been done the day before. Playing indoors in Providence against Brown, Harvard was stunned by the Bears' attack and was narrowly edged out in the final singles match.
A bigger disappointment, however, came during the doubles. At No. 3, sophomores William Lee and Dalibor Snyder dropped a 9-7 decision to J.R. Argo and Ricardo Eboli. Brown teammates Justin Natale and Nick Malone then won the doubles point for the Bears, upsetting Doran and Swart, 8-6, at No. 1. Green and Lingman won at No. 2, but it was too late for the Crimson.
"If we would have won the doubles point, it would have taken the pressure off us," Doran said.
The focus then shifted to the first four singles matches, since the Brown indoor courts are only capable of holding four matches at a time. Barker, at No. 4, dominated Chris Wolfe, 6-3, 6-3. Malone then dismissed Lingman, 6-1, 6-4, to put Brown up 2-1.
Doran lost the first set, 6-2, to Natale at No. 1, but fought back to win the second set 6-2. With the momentum in his favor, Doran led 2-1 in the final set when Natale got thrown out of the match. He was ejected for excessive code violations, including racket abuse. The win tied the team scores at two apiece.
Green lost the first set but had gone up a break in the second in his match against Chris Drake at No. 3. Drake, however, regained control and put Green away with a final score of 6-4, 6-4. Lee put away Argo, 6-1, 6-4, at No. 5 to tie the match at 3-all.
The deciding match was ironically the last singles match at No. 6. Swart was playing Eboli, the Bears' captain. Eboli won the first set and was up in the second, but Swart forced a tiebreaker. After getting down 4-1 in the breaker, Swart rolled off six straight points to win 7-4 and take the match to a third set. Both players fought tenaciously, but Eboli was able to get the final break and win the set 6-4.
Just like that, Harvard's chance at an Ivy title was gone.
"I think the guys felt we were a better team," Doran said. "We didn't care about the Ivy title as much as qualifying for the NCAAs, which is a bigger disappointment."
"Of course, winning the Ivy League is a pre-requisite for the NCAAs," he added.
Harvard's season still isn't over, however. Even though there is no postseason play in the Crimson's future, the seniors get one last chance for glory this Wednesday when they take on Dartmouth at 3 p.m. at the Beren Tennis Center.