The Harvard women’s tennis team finally became accustomed to California life just in time to come back home.
Traveling to the Golden State over spring break to play four of the top teams in the nation, Harvard visibly improved from one match to the next. The Crimson lost 6-1 to both No. 18 Fresno St. and No. 6 Stanford to begin the road trip but followed up with a near upset of No. 17 Northwestern and a dramatic 4-3 come-from-behind victory at Pepperdine to cap off the week.
The hero against Pepperdine was freshman Susanna Lingman, who won the deciding match against Pepperdine at No. 2 singles in a third set tiebreaker. With the match tied 3-3, Lingman entered the final set with little momentum, dropping the second set 6-1 after winning the first 6-2.
Lingman seemed to tire during the second set, chasing down ball after ball as Pepperdine’s Monika Horvath tried to take control of the match, but Lingman turned the tables in the third. The freshman found her second wind and battled back from a 5-6 hole, winning the vital game on her serve at love. Lingman then won the first four points of the tiebreaker and held on for a 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (7-5) victory to give Harvard its first win in its last California match.
“This match was all about heart,” Harvard Coach Gordon Graham said. “Our players turned in such a gutsy performance. A coach cannot ask for any more from his players. If the team plays like that in its matches from now on, we’re going to go a long way.”
Harvard junior Lara Naqushbandi gave Lingman the chance to play for the overall win, tying the match at 3-3 with a 6-2, 0-6, 6-3 victory at No. 5 singles. Naqushbandi, like Lingman, won the first set convincingly and then curiously ran out of steam in the second. Yet again, Harvard was up to the challenge in the third, this time with Naqushbandi out-hitting her opponent from the baseline until finally triumphing on her second match point.
Freshmen Alexis Martire and Courtney Bergman won the first two matches of the day for the Crimson. Martire won 6-2, 6-1 at No. 3 singles and Bergman defeated Charlotte Vernaz at No. 1 singles 6-3, 7-5.
Lingman was Harvard’s brightest light throughout the California trip. An Irvine, Calif. native, Lingman won all four of her matches, including the lone Crimson points against Fresno St. and Stanford. All four were also three-set thrillers, the most impressive of which came against Stanford’s Gabriela Lastra, one of the best collegiate players in the country. Lingman defeated Lastra 6-4, 1-6, 6-1, outlasting the Cardinals’ second singles star in the Palo Alto heat. Lingman won 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 at No. 2 singles against Fresno St. and defeated Northwestern’s Lia Jackson 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to round out her impressive homecoming.
Bergman and Martire also pitched in singles wins against Northwestern, but the Wildcats snuck by Harvard with a 4-3 victory. Northwestern stormed to a 3-0 lead but failed to close out the victory until Simona Petrutiu edged Broughton 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in a nearly three-hour match.
“I was very impressed with our top three singles players in all of our matches, but especially against Northwestern,” Graham said. “I think we proved that we can play with any team in the country on a given day.”
Harvard could have defeated Northwestern if it had secured the doubles point. Seniors Sarah McGinty and Fleur Broughton emerged with an 8-5 win at third doubles, but the freshman teams of Bergman-Lingman and Martire-Ashley Hyotte could not provide help, losing 8-4 and 8-1, respectively.
Harvard did not win a doubles point in any of its four matches, a major issue of concern for Coach Graham. As the team enters its Ivy League season this weekend, Graham may think about shaking up his top two doubles tandems. Of course, if Harvard dominates its Ivy competition in singles, the doubles point will be moot.
“We got better and better in each match,” Graham said. “We played the top teams in the country. We legitimately could have beat Northwestern and then played great team tennis against Pepperdine. I was really proud of how we competed.”
Harvard will open its Ivy season against Cornell on Friday and Columbia on Saturday at the Beren Tennis Center.