Even though the Crimson hadn’t played an outdoor match this season, last week’s unseasonably warm weather had given the team an opportunity to acclimate itself to the wind and sun.
“We’ve been playing outside, practicing and getting ready for the weekend at the Beren [Tennis Center], so we were kind of prepared,” junior Lara Naqushbandi said.
Still, Saturday’s postponement forced Harvard to wait another day for its outdoor debut. Then, Sunday brought more rain, relegating the players to their hotel rooms, where they attempted to remain focused as the courts dried.
Finally, the doubles matches began, with the Crimson players altering their tactics to suit the windy conditions.
“You have to be careful when you’re outside not to go for too many winners,” freshman Alexis Martire said.
Initially, the conservative approach seemed to serve Harvard well, as Martire and her partner, junior Sanja Bajin, jumped out to a 7-4 advantage over Jessica Balbuena and freshman Lauren Walker at No. 1 doubles while freshmen Courtney Bergman and Susanna Lingman beat senior Alida Gallovits and sophomore Christina Denny, 8-4, at No. 2.
Bergman, in particular, enjoyed pairing with her fellow rookie.
“[We’re] a good match for doubles because she hits the ball a lot flatter and with more pace [than I do], so she sets a lot up and I close out the points with the volleys,” Bergman said.
Unfortunately for the Crimson, neither Bajin and Martire nor the No. 3 tandem of co-captain Fleur Broughton and freshman Ashley Hyotte could capitalize on match points. Both lost in tiebreaks, 9-8 (1) and 9-8 (10), respectively.
The two losses gave the doubles point to the Seminoles and, perhaps more importantly, took some wind out of Harvard’s sails entering the singles matches.
Still, a commanding, 6-2, 6-3 win by Martire over Balbuena at No. 4 drew the Crimson back to even ground.
Harvard, though, then lost at the top two positions, with Bajin succumbing to Gallovits at No. 2, 7-5, 6-4, while No. 21 Bergman was outplayed by No. 42 Anca Dumitrescu in the top slot and fell, 6-1, 6-2.
“I just got off to a really, really slow start and it seemed like she had nothing to lose,” Bergman said.
With three players still on the court, the Crimson had to sweep to take the match.
It was not to be, however, as Naqushbandi fell to Walker at No. 5, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Despite the team loss, Lingman refused to give up. Facing a seemingly insurmountable 6-2, 3-0 deficit, she battled back to take six of the next seven games and the second set from Denny. Completing the comeback, the freshman won the third set, 7-5, to seal her victory.
With the outcome of the match decided, No. 138 Hyotte was tied, 3-3, in the third set with Meredith Fish.
The Crimson, though, had only an hour before its plane back to Boston was scheduled to take off. In such situations, it is customary that both players agree to settle the match with a tiebreak.
Florida State Coach Lise Gregory, however, knowing that Hyotte would not be able to play out the entire match, refused to accept such an arrangement, forcing Hyotte to retire for the final 5-2 margin.
Upon returning home, the Crimson women were dissapointed with the result, but moderately encouraged by their performances.
“There were about three matches that could have gone either way,” Naqushbandi said.
“Everyone was fighting until the end, but it was just a matter of a few points here and there,” Martire added.
Now, the challenge facing the Harvard players is to win those pivotal points the rest of the season.