The Harvard men's tennis team is on fire, and its Ivy League opponents are getting torched along the way.
The No. 38 Crimson improved its Ivy record to 4-0 with wins at Penn and Princeton this weekend. In dispatching some of its toughest foes Harvard has positioned itself as the best team in the conference.
On Friday in Philadelphia, the young Harvard squad easily beat the Quakers, 5-2, sweeping the doubles and winning four of the singles matches. The following afternoon, the Crimson toughened up for No. 60 Princeton and pulled out another 5-2 win.
The win over Princeton marked the third nationally-ranked team the Crimson has defeated this year. The match started with doubles, which had been a trouble spot for Harvard this year. Against the Tigers the Crimson took the point with wins at Nos. 2 and 3.
The team of junior William Lee and freshman Mark Riddell struck first, defeating Trevor Smith and Tim Kofol, 8-5. Next, at No. 3, the pairing of freshman Chris Chiou with junior Dalibor Snyder clinched the doubles point with a 8-4 win over Judson Williams and Dan Friedman.
"[Harvard] Coach [David Fish '72] has been experimenting with doubles teams," sophomore Oli Choo said. "It's starting to look like the partners are getting comfortable with each other."
The two teams then faced off in singles competition. Harvard notched its first win at No. 3, where Choo, who had been nursing a groin pull sustained last week against Cornell, played his first match in a week. Facing off against Smith, Choo dropped a well-played 6-4 first set. He then tweaked his game slightly and the move paid dividends.
"Strategically, I started playing more from the backcourt," Choo said. "And I was winning most of the rallies."
After a 6-2 second set win, Choo broke Smith's first service game in the third set. He then held during a long service game, and Smith was broken. The final score was 4-6, 6-2, 6-1.
The Tigers picked up a point at the No. 2 spot when Williams defeated freshman Cliff Nguyen (who was playing down a spot from the day before) 6-3, 6-4. Riddell closed out Friedman, 7-6(3), 6-4, to put Harvard up 3-1.
The three remaining matches all went to three sets, providing some late drama. Co-captain Anthony Barker, playing at No. 4, had lost a close tiebreaker to John Portlock in the first set but stormed back to win the second 6-2. He was broken to start the third set but dropped only two more games to win the set 6-3 and seal the match for the Crimson.
Lee, taking on Kyle Kliegerman at No. 1, lost 10-8 in a third-set tiebreaker and freshman George Turner pulled out a three-set win to make the final score 5-2 in favor of the Crimson.
The day before, the Crimson made quick work of the Penn Quakers. The doubles teams all prevailed without incident. Barker and Turner, at No. 1, defeated Frantisek Stejskal and Ryan Harwood 8-5, while Lee and Riddell won at No. 2, 8-3 to seal up the point.
The first two singles wins came at Nos. 4 and 5 for Harvard. Barker defeated Robert Pringle, 6-3, 6-3 and Riddell polished off Eric Sobotka in straight sets as well, 6-4, 6-2.
Harvard clinched the match with William Lee's 6-4, 7-6(7) win over Harwood at No. 2.
"I guess since we were higher in the rankings we were expected to win," Choo said. "But we really focused well."
The Crimson's eyes are on post-season NCAA play in the longterm. However, there will be more pressing concerns this weekend when the team faces No. 59 Yale and Brown.
"We can't dwell on our Princeton win too much," Choo said. "Yale is another tough team."
Harvard will be in New Haven on Friday at 2pm to take on the Elis, and then return home to face off against Brown on Saturday at noon.