Rather, the squad won both matches—5-2 and 6-1, respectively—in an emotional but encouraging weekend of tennis in New York.
The Crimson seemed anything but ship-shape entering the contests. The roster was all but depleted by injuries, academic commitments and deaths in several players’ families. The team was playing on the road against Ancient Eight foes. And, of course, the squad had dropped four of the last five matches in disappointing fashion.
“The coach called it the perfect storm for other teams on this trip,” said senior Chris Chiou, “because a lot of odd…things happened, some of them tragic.”
“It was a test for us this week not only emotionally, but it was a test on the road, too, against these tough teams.”
Harvard coach David Fish ’71 agreed, adding that “what we hoped to avoid—and it looked hard to avoid when we kept hearing all this bad news—was starting off [Ivy play] in a hole.”
HARVARD 5, COLUMBIA 2
“Columbia is always a tough match,” Fish said, “whether we have our whole lineup or not.”
And on Friday, the Crimson did not, but triumphed 5-2 nonetheless.
A lingering back injury sidelined co-captain Cliff Nguyen, while fellow senior Mark Riddell remained in Cambridge for academic purposes. Moreover, three Harvard players had suffered the deaths of loved ones since spring break—freshman Gideon Valkin and junior Jonathan Chu both traveled to the match against the Lions (8-6, 1-2 Ivy) but co-captain and top singles player David Lingman returned to his native California for a time.
“The coaching staff had to make some really interesting decisions,” admitted associate coach Peter Mandeau, who also did not make the New York trip.
Indeed, Chu was tapped to fill Lingman’s role at the top of the singles lineup, while freshman Jack Li—who usually occupies the fifth spot—was promoted to Chu’s usual second. And Chiou, who has recently been playing sixth, was moved to the third slot.
This meant that senior George Turner and Jason Beren—neither one of whom typically starts—were now playing in the fourth and sixth positions, respectively, with Valkin resting between them in the fifth spot.
The moves worked. Chu proved his mettle in a 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 victory, and Chiou notched a tight 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) win. Turner won 6-4, 7-5, and Valkin—who has risen to the occasion, playing in his first dual match just in March—continued to impress, taking his match 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Li fell 6-4, 6-3, and Beren 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, but the Crimson sealed the match with the four singles victories and the doubles point.
Of course, the doubles lineup was also atypical. Chu, in the absence of his partner Lingman, teamed up with sophomore Brandon Chiu, who normally plays with Riddell. The pair won 9-8 (5) after playing down a match point.