It is called the Harvard Winter Invitational, after all, so it should come as no surprise that the Harvard men’s tennis team managed to hit its way into the finals of both A-Flight draws this past weekend despite coming straight from its exam layoff. Though opponents might have expected rusty Crimson match partners, the squad’s rigorous physical training and attention to technical detail prior to the break created no such circumstance.
“It’s always really tough to come out of exams at Harvard,” said Crimson coach David Fish, who added with a laugh that players are oftentimes, “ground down to their knees.
“So I was pretty pleased to see that a lot of the progress they’d made before then was still sticking in there.”
Junior and fifth seed Jonathan Chu, who was the singles co-champion—fittingly enough, he split the honor with his doubles partner, senior co-captain and top seed David Lingman—agreed.
“I think we paid special attention to fitness and just being very disciplined this time around,” Chu said. “We were, I think, the strongest team in the tournament, and I think we were better prepared than in previous years.”
Chu and Lingman lost only 34 games between them in the seven matches they played for the singles draw, though Lingman was pushed to a tiebreak (7-6 (4), 6-3) in his semifinal match.
Though the pair did not compete head-to-head in a finals match, they joined forces for the doubles draw as the top seed before ultimately losing in the semifinals, 9-8 (5), to the eventual champions from Brown, Jamie Cerretani and Ben Brier.
The duo took the title with a victory over another Harvard pairing, senior Mark Riddell and sophomore Brandon Chiu.
Seeded third, Riddell and Chiu had squeaked through the quarter- and semi-finals with two tiebreak wins (6 and 5, respectively), but they did not manage such a close match in the finals, losing 8-3.
“I don’t think [they] were tired,” Fish said of the pair’s tough play. “I think it’s an intense tournament to come on the heels of two weeks of really intense, hard mental labor. [If] your team can muster 80 percent of [its] mental and physical resources during this time, that’s a victory.”
The invitational, held at the Murr Tennis Center from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1, is the team’s only warm-up before it travels to Seattle for the ITA/USTA National Team Indoor Championships on only three days’ rest.
“We usually have an extra week after this invitational tournament [before the Indoor Championships], so we have to pay particular attention to…taking care of our bodies,” Chu said.
The squad is already on the right track, though, and this weekend’s results are proof.
“I think we approached [this] much more professionally this time than we have in years before,” Chu said, “and that’s definitely one of the reasons why we were able to perform so well in the singles draw.”
The Crimson fielded three of the four semifinalists, five of the eight quarterfinalists, and nine in the round of 16.
“I thought what showed up best was our singles play,” Fish said. “Our doubles play was much rustier, which is sort of natural given the lack of ability to work as a team during [exams].”
Though Harvard did not control the doubles draw as it did the singles, the Crimson still managed two of the four semifinalist teams.
“[Lingman and Chu] are going to be a good team,” Fish said. “They just need time together, and I’d say the same thing about Riddell and Chiu. They had a good tournament, too.”
Now Fish is left to answer what he deemed “tough questions in our lineup.” However, he added, “those are wonderful questions to have.”
One nice addition to the Harvard lineup will be junior Martin Wetzel, who was sidelined this weekend with a nagging injury but is expected to play in Seattle.
Also returning from injury is Chu, though one would not know it from his recent play. Over a year ago, Chu gashed his shin down to the bone, and when he returned to the court not long afterward, he found that both his serve and confidence had vanished.
“It took me a while, almost a year, actually, to come back fully,” Chu said, “and psychologically, the effects of the injury were a lot worse than the physical harm done.”
However, this weekend’s triumphs seem to have buried whatever doubts still remained.
“It’s nice to see him back at a level—maybe better than [that at which he was playing] when he had a terrible injury last year,” Fish said. “It’s been a tough year of rehabilitation and getting his confidence back, so it’s nice to see him have a good tournament.”
Fish remains hopeful that all such elements of his team will come together for Wednesday’s Indoor Championships.
“Overall, the attitude has been very good, and the tournament gave us the kind of results we need to go into the Nationals feeling that we’ve got a fair amount of tennis but not too much.”