Harvard (6-3, 4-2 Ivy) and Yale (17-2, 5-1) needed the full nine games to decide not only second place in the Ivy League, but also the No. 3 seed heading into the national championship tournament.
With the score tied at four, the crowd gathered around the center court to watch two freshman sensations—Harvard’s Will Broadbent, the intercollegiate No. 6, and Yale’s Julian Illingworth, the intercollegiate No. 3—square off at No. 1 to decide the match.
The two top collegiate players would not disappoint their spectators. Broadbent and Illingworth’s styles were well-suited for each other, leading to fast-paced points as each competitor tried to gain the upper hand. Long rallies and tight scoring meant that mental mistakes played a key role in determining the outcome.
Broadbent jumped ahead of Illingworth early in the first game, quickly building a 6-0 lead before holding on to win 9-7. But Illingworth bounced back in the second game, taking a 9-5 decision from Broadbent.
“The second game was crucial,” Harvard coach Satinder Bajwa said. “It was a little bit uphill after that.”
Midway through the third game, Illingworth tripped and got up holding his hand. The incident did not seem to affect his play, though, and he continued to stave off Broadbent’s furious comeback efforts.
Ultimately, Illingworth took the third and fourth games, 9-3 and 9-5, to defeat Broadbent 3-1. Illingworth also defeated Broadbent in the USSRA 19-and-under National finals last year.
One of the closest matches of the evening was at No. 4, where co-captain intercollegiate No. 25 Dylan Patterson defeated highly-touted intercollegiate No. 22 Josh Schwartz 10-9, 6-9, 9-4, 9-2.
“I was a little nervous going into the match,” Patterson said. “He was ranked higher than me and I hadn’t ever played him before. Still, I’d rather lose [my match] and have the team win 10 times out of 10.”
Junior intercollegiate No. 9 James Bullock got Harvard on the board at No. 2. Bullock defeated intercollegiate No. 15 Anshul Manchanda 9-4, 9-0, 9-5, controlling the match from start to finish with his powerful shots and quick footwork.
At No. 5, junior intercollegiate No. 31 Ziggy Whitman registered an impressive victory over intercollegiate No. 32 Chris Olsen 9-1, 9-3, 9-5.
Patterson was especially impressed with Whitman’s play.
“Not only did he beat him 3-0,” Patterson said. “But he beat a senior.”
Harvard’s final win came courtesy of sophomore intercollegiate No. 10 Michael Blumberg, who soundly defeated Avner Geva 9-4, 9-3, 9-4.
But the Crimson’s lack of depth eventually caught up with Harvard. The Bulldogs took the bottom four matches to put themselves in position to capture the victory. Illingworth sealed the deal with his concluding win.
With the loss, the fourth-seeded Crimson will open its quest for the national title against the University of Western Ontario. A win in that match would likely pit Harvard against No. 1 Trinity, which beat the Crimson 8-1 Feb. 1. The Bantams have won the last five national championships and are currently riding a 77-game win streak.
“That’s what it’s all about, playing with the best,” Bajwa said. “We have to beat [Trinity] sometime.”
If Yale can get by Cornell and then win a likely semifinal matchup against Princeton, Harvard could also earn another shot at the Bulldogs.
“We will be looking for revenge...in a competitive way,” Bajwa said.