Captain Oli Choo Helps Men’s Tennis Dethrone Brown 5-2 To Take Ivy Title

I'LL BE YOUR SERVER
Jessica E. Schumer

Junior CLIFF NGUYEN won in straight sets against Brown despite playing at No. 3. Nguyen usually plays No. 4 for the Crimson.

In his final regular season match for the No. 39 Harvard men’s tennis team, co-captain Oli Choo fell behind early, but recovered in dramatic fashion to help the Crimson knock off No. 42 Brown 5-2.

With the win, Harvard (17-8, 7-0 Ivy) secured not only the Ivy title and accompanying automatic NCAA Tournament berth, but also an undefeated conference campaign. In the process, the Crimson dealt the Bears (20-4, 6-1) their first league loss and denied them their second straight Ivy crown.

“There could not have been a better match to cap off my four great years at Harvard,” Choo said.

Choo added a doubles victory to his singles triumph to help the red-hot Crimson to its 10th straight victory, as it pounded the Bears to clinch its 12th Ivy championship in the last 15 years.

Harvard won the title—its 26th overall—on a beautiful afternoon featuring several exciting, seesaw matches that made seizing momentum crucial.

At first doubles, the newly-formed pair of junior co-captain David Lingman and sophomore Jonathan Chu crushed its opponents 8-1 using spectacular volleys and passing shots. The extroverted Lingman and Chu were constantly fired up, interacting vocally with each other and the crowd after their numerous winners.

Displaying a completely contrasting style of play, Choo and junior Cliff Nguyen won 8-3 at No. 3 by playing calmly and efficiently and forcing their opponents into numerous mistakes. As a testament to their ability to stay cool under pressure, Choo and Nguyen were not rattled when their opponents saved multiple match points and won two consecutive games to make the score 7-3. Instead, the pair remained focused and closed out the match to give Harvard the doubles point.

But the Crimson quickly unsettled its fans, dropping the opening set in three of the six singles matches and later falling behind in the other three.

Choo, playing at No. 6, trailed 1-5, 30-40 in the first set before checking the scoreboard to see how his teammates were faring.

“As I looked up at the scores and saw that we were down in several matches, I became more determined and focused on winning each individual point,” Choo said.

Choo made the comeback of a lifetime, fighting off a set point and seizing the momentum by forcing his opponent into numerous unforced errors. Before long, Choo had stormed back to take the first set in a tiebreaker, and he went on to steamroll his devastated opponent in the second set for a 7-6 (4), 6-2 victory to give the Crimson its first singles point.

Nguyen, playing at No. 3 instead of his usual No. 4, prevailed in a similar match, fighting through a back-and-forth first set and dominating Adil Shamasdin in the second for a 7-6 (4), 6-1 win.

Nguyen trailed 1-4 in the first set tiebreak, but—as he has done all season—eventually prevailed through his remarkable consistency. Shamasdin was tenacious in running down well-placed shots, but Nguyen’s strategic placement eventually wore him down.

“I thought if I could just continue to play at a high level, I would eventually find the holes in his game,” Nguyen said.

At No. 1, Lingman struggled to control his powerful volleys in the first set, but became more patient and set up his approaches much better to win 5-7, 6-1, 7-5, sealing the Harvard victory.

Junior Mark Riddell, playing No. 4, gave the Crimson its fifth team point, fighting off double-digit match points in the second set to prevent Brown from putting another point on the board before Lingman had clinched the match. Riddell then captured the third set for the 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 win.

“Considering that Mark didn’t practice much this week because of his injured wrist, he was really tremendous in fighting off so many match points, but Mark always fights for every point regardless of the score,” Choo said.

Junior George Turner turned in a valiant effort at No. 5, but ultimately fell 6-4, 2-6, 6-7 in a match that tested the groundstrokes and patience of its competitors.

Up next for Harvard is the 2003 NCAA Tournament. The Crimson will learn its opponent during the selection show on Wednesday and, with some luck, may even play host to the first two rounds of the championships, which begin May 10.

Multimedia

TURNED AROUND

TURNED AROUND