When the Harvard women’s tennis team traveled to Illinois last year, the Fighting Illini faithful made the Crimson feel most unwelcome. On Saturday, No. 17 Harvard returned the favor, downing No. 34 Illinois, 6-1.
“Think about how many people go to a basketball game,” junior Eva Wang said of their meeting a season ago. “There were more people than that there. People were standing right next to the court—people being really obnoxious, really rude.”
And though the rowdy fans turned out by the Crimson (5-1) failed to match their Fighting Illini counterparts, less-than-cherished memories of the experience powered Harvard from start to finish.
“Everyone was pretty revved up,” freshman Celia Durkin said. “I heard there were issues with their fans when we played last year...We really tried to step it up and make sure there were no holes in any of our games.”
One day after uncharacteristically dropping the doubles point, Harvard coasted through all three pairs matches, then swept the first four singles contests from Illinois (4-3) to lock up the overall victory, despite injuries to co-captains Courtney Bergman and Susanna Lingman which kept both out of the lineup.
Their replacements—Wang and junior Melissa Anderson, who were inserted at Nos. 5 and 6, respectively—solidified Harvard’s stranglehold on the match, dropping just two games a piece en route to comfortable wins.
“It wasn’t a big deal except I haven’t been playing well since I’ve been injured,” Wang said. “For me personally having a win under my belt and playing as well as I did…it’s just a huge confidence booster personally.”
NO. 17 HARVARD 4, NO. 21 NOTRE DAME 3
On the brink of defeat after dropping the doubles point and two of the first three singles matches, the Crimson rallied to sweep the final three contests to close out the Fighting Irish, 4-3.
Durkin and Anderson had an opportunity to close out the doubles point with a win over Notre Dame’s Brook Buck and Lauren Connelly at No. 2, but stumbled late, falling 9-7.
“We just got a little tight at the end,” Durkin said. “We definitely had them throughout the match...[Then going into the singles] was especially hard. There’s definitely a drop in confidence, but I actually thought that I was more revved up than I’ve ever been because I was still upset about losing the doubles.”
Durkin would rebound at No. 4 to take the first singles match, 6-2, 7-5, but Bergman fell in two sets and sophomore Preethi Mukundan lost in three, placing the Fighting Irish (3-2) one point short of victory.
But senior Alexis Martire, who had dropped her first set 6-3, fought back to take the second 6-2 before closing out 7-5 at No. 5. And sophomore Elsa O’Riain, who had eked out a first-set win in a tie break before dropping the second 6-2 bounced back to close out her match, 6-3, placing the pressure squarely on Lingman’s shoulders at No. 3.
The co-captain didn’t disappoint, splitting the first two sets—both 7-6—before smashing Christian Thompson 6-0 to complete Harvard’s come-from-behind victory.
“It’s such a confidence boost,” Durkin said. “It really doesn’t matter what a team is ranked because there are some teams that should be way higher...It’s tight matches like that that really build character.”
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at email@example.com.