The No. 43 Harvard men’s tennis team remained perfect in the Ivies with wins over Princeton and Penn this weekend, setting up a showdown with Brown—the only other undefeated Ivy team—for the league championship on Friday.
The Crimson (15-8, 5-0 Ivy) has now won eight straight after defeating Princeton by the narrowest of margins, 4-3, last Friday before cruising to a 6-1 triumph over Penn the next day.
Harvard travels to New Haven, Conn. to face Yale on Wednesday prior to its confrontation with the Bears at home. Much like the women’s tennis team, who clinched its Ivy championship this weekend in front of an enthusiastic Crimson crowd, the men are hoping for a large show of support.
“We’re trying to get a lot of people to come out,” co-captain Oli Choo said. “Last year, the match was at Brown and they had hundreds of people there.”
Harvard 6, Penn 1
Harvard had little trouble besting the Quakers even after its No. 1 doubles team of sophomore Jonathan Chu and junior Chris Chiou fell 8-3 to start the day. The Crimson won the other two doubles matches, including the first-time pairing of co-captain David Lingman and sophomore Jason Beren, to take the point and stake a 1-0 lead.
Beren ultimately had the only Crimson singles loss, falling in the fifth slot to Todd Lecher 6-4, 7-6 (2). The rest of the lineup won in straight sets, with the exception of junior George Turner’s three-set comeback win, 5-7, 6-4, 1-0(6), at No. 4.
Junior Cliff Nguyen sealed the Harvard win with an easy 6-3, 6-3 win at No. 3.
Penn was the Crimson’s first match of the spring season to be held outdoors. Harvard appreciated the fresh air, especially since outdoor play features a slower tempo, with longer points and greater difficulty controlling ball placement.
“It was good to be outdoors,” Choo said. “Assuming that the matches are outside this week, it was good to get that experience.”
Harvard 4, Princeton 3
The Tigers proved to be a much greater challenge for the Crimson, who found itself in a precarious position. Harvard was down 3-2 with Chu still playing at No. 2 and Turner slugging it out at No. 5.
Chu had lost the first set of his match against Darius Craton but battled back to knot the match at one-all. In the third set, Craton broke Chu to make the score 5-4, held serve to tie the score at five and had double break point against the Crimson sophomore.
“The good thing about the Princeton match was that it tested us on the road in a pretty tough environment,” Choo said. “It was really close and gives us confidence that we can win those matches.”
The Tiger crowd was loudly cheering for Craton, but Chu managed to hold serve, going up 6-5 before breaking Craton for the win.
“Jon pulled out a really tough match at No. 2,” Lingman said. “We didn’t anticipate that it would be that close, but Princeton came out and played as good a match as I think they could have played.”
Meanwhile, Turner was staging a battle of his own on the other end of the building, taking a break point in the second set. Just a few moments after Chu finished off Craton—and well over three hours after the match had started—Turner sealed the Crimson win with a 7-5, 6-4 victory.
“The teams that can escape those close matches are going to end up winning,” Lingman said.
Princeton had jumped out to an early 1-0 lead with wins at No. 1 and No. 3 doubles. Harvard struck back quickly with straight set wins by Lingman in the first slot and Nguyen in the fourth.
But the Crimson found itself down a set in three of the remaining four matches, and the Tigers won at No. 3 and No. 6 to go up 3-2, setting up a dramatic finish.
“We have a lot to work on this week, but we’re feeling pretty good going into these last two team matches,” Choo said. “We’re working on trying to block out distractions, whether it’s the crowd or the other team, and just focusing on playing our games.”
Since Brown has more wins than the Crimson with its 6-0 Ivy record, Harvard needs to stay focused on defeating Yale first as it enters the final week of the regular season. Even with a perfect league record, the Crimson sees room for improvement in its play.
“The team’s excited that we’re still undefeated, but we still haven’t played as clean a match as we would like,” Lingman said. “You see more and more that the teams that win are able to stay together and support each other even though the sport is so individual. Building some sort of chemistry is the most important thing, and I think we’re starting to get it.”
—Staff writer Brenda E. Lee can be reached at email@example.com.