The ITA All-American Championships, held over the weekend in Chattanooga, Tenn., provided two members of the Harvard men’s tennis team with just such an opportunity, and each took full advantage.
On Friday, captain Jonathan Chu advanced to the quarterfinals of the main singles draw, defeating several strong opponents.
On Saturday, though, he lost to eventual runner-up and No. 2 seed Sam Warburg, 6-1, 6-3.
The end result, however, reflected neither the significance of the game nor Chu’s performance throughout the tournament.
“I think Jonathan really matured in this tournament,” said Crimson coach Dave Fish ’72. “He’s developed the ability to deal with a tough start without panicking.”
Indeed, Chu had to overcome slow starts in most of his matches. In the first round, UVA’s Somdev De Varman—“perhaps the best freshman in the NCAA,” according to Fish—took the first set 6-3 and led in the second before Chu rallied to win 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.
That victory set the tone for the next two matches, which Chu won comfortably in straight sets.
And so Chu arrived at the quarterfinal stage to face the pre-tournament favorite Warburg, of the Stanford Cardinal. Once again, Chu found himself behind from the get-go. Warburg “pounced like a cat,” said Fish, and the Cardinal promptly raced to a 6-1, 3-0 lead.
But Chu managed to regroup, mustering the toughness that Fish has come to expect from the team captain. He forced the second set to 3-3 before ultimately falling 6-1, 6-3.
Despite the end result, Harvard’s most experienced player had much to be proud of, returning to Cambridge with the kind of valuable match experience that only the very top-level tournaments provide.
In the doubles, Chu and junior Brandon Chiu had the misfortune of drawing the top-seeded doubles duo from Stanford in the first round. Undaunted, Chu and Chiu put up a great fight, again regrouping after an early break and almost pulling a victory out of the bag.
“It was a very good match,” said Chu. “We had a number of break opportunities, but unfortunately we couldn’t capitalize.”
The match ended a very tight 8-6 in Stanford’s favor.
In the doubles consolation draw the next day, Chu and Chiu won their first match but then lost to the No. 5 seed pair from Virginia, 8-4, in another match closer than the final score suggested.
Despite exiting earlier than they had hoped, both Chu and Chiu had very successful weekends. As the Crimson prepares for the Regional Championships at Virginia Tech later this month, it can be confident that its senior players have become battle-hardened veterans of the national collegiate tennis circuit.
“Both guys played some great matches, and that’s the reason we go to these elite tournaments,” said Fish. “You can’t get these kinds of games in practice.”