On the cusp of a return trip to the NCAA tournament, the Harvard men’s tennis team has only two more hurdles to clear as it takes on Yale and Brown this weekend. Both matches ought to be hotly contested if recent history can prove to be a guide.
This afternoon at 2 p.m., the Crimson (12-4, 4-0 Ivy) faces the Bulldogs at the Beren Tennis Center in a rematch of this past fall’s ECAC tournament semifinal, also held at Beren. Back in October, Yale (11-9, 0-5) pulled off a 4-3 upset thanks to two tight matches. First, Eli duo Steve Berke and Dustin West defeated the top Crimson tandem of junior Oli Choo and freshman Jonathan Chu. Then, Berke defeated co-captain William Lee in a three-set thriller.
And if Harvard wants any more motivation, it only has to look one year in the past, when Yale was the only Ivy team to defeat the Crimson. In that match, held in New Haven, the Elis also won the doubles point before Berke put away the match with a win over Lee, 4-3.
The Crimson clearly have revenge on its mind, but today’s game won’t have the same importance as one might have thought a few months ago. Harvard and Yale are heading in different directions—the Elis are winless in the Ivies so far. Primarily, this is due to the loss of Berke, last year’s Ivy Player of the Year. Berke has not played since Spring Break for undisclosed reasons.
Instead, freshman Ryan Murphy, is playing at the No. 1 spot, but without much success. However, Berke may show up in the lineup today, which would greatly improve the Elis’ chances.
“We’re not going to take them lightly for sure,” Choo said. “We’re expecting [Berke] to play. It’s not going to be a walkover.”
Likewise, Harvard is a different team than in the fall. With the Crimson’s depth, Lee is playing down at the No. 5 spot, where he should have no trouble winning matches. In the top singles spots, Chu and junior David Lingman have been splitting time and also played doubles together last weekend, when the Crimson swept Penn and Princeton. The team is on a roll, and in the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) team rankings, Harvard placed No. 27, way ahead of both Yale (No. 56) and Brown (No. 50).
Irrespective of what happens today, the Ivy League championship will almost certainly be determined Sunday in Providence, R.I., when the Crimson travels to Brown. The Bears (11-9, 5-0) also stand undefeated in the league, and even if they lose today against Dartmouth, Brown could take the title if they beat Harvard. The Bears won the ECAC tournament this fall.
“They came to our house in the fall and won the ECAC, which left a bitter taste in our mouth,” Chu said. “We’ve been waiting for the chance to go on their court with a chance to win the Ivy League.”
Harvard beat Brown 5-2 in a marathon match in the blistering heat last season. The Crimson has seen Brown this year, but not in team play.
In an early September individual tournament, both Harvard and Brown players competed, and Chu faced off against the Bears’ Nick Malone in the final. Chu took the match, making his first big impact for the Crimson. But in a January indoor tournament, Chu and Malone met again—this time with Malone winning easily.
Chu and Malone may collide again in a rubber match at the No. 2 singles spot, if Harvard and Brown coaches use their usual lineups.
“The coaches have been experimenting a little with the lineup,” Chu said. “All we can do is prepare to play the best we can play.”