Stanford (2-0), defending champion in this event, earned the first point over No. 35 Harvard (1-1) in doubles play and never looked back. The top two doubles pairs both fell 8-1, setting the tone for a frustrating afternoon in the A.C. Nielsen Tennis Stadium.
“They just pulled away fast,” junior Eva Wang said, “and then they had the momentum and it ended up killing us.”
With the first round of singles, the gulf only grew wider. No. 104 Elsa O’Riain of Harvard fell to No. 12 Alice Barnes 6-4, 6-4. Soon after, Stanford’s Amber Liu, returning to action unranked after taking a semester off following her second straight NCAA Singles Championship last spring, took down Crimson captain No. 27 Courtney Bergman in straight sets, 6-1, 6-4. Sophomore No. 93 Preethi Mukundan kept the upset bid alive with a tenacious triumph over No. 41 Whitney Deason by the narrow margin of 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5).
The clincher came in the next round of singles bouts. In that match, No. 22 Erin Burdette knocked off Harvard co-captain No. 45 Susanna Lingman by the score of 6-3, 6-1. The two squads split the remaining matches. No. 123 Celia Durkin eventually succumbed to No. 35 Theresa Logan, 6-7 (4), 7-5, 1-0 (4), in a nail-biter, and Wang stole a win over No. 82 Anne Yelsey in No. 6 singles, 6-4, 7-6 (6).
After a nearly three-month layoff and a dominant season-opening win over Boston University on Sunday, Harvard had little preparation for the daunting challenge presented by Stanford. In the winter months, practices were unstructured and opportunities to test its mettle against upper-flight competition unavailable.
“Just having matches under our belt—today was only our second match—and there are a lot of factors,” Wang said. “The courts are faster here and the atmosphere is totally different.”
The Crimson now moves on to the consolation bracket, where it will continue play this morning. Last year, Harvard picked up a key win in the same situation, topping then-No. 13 Kentucky.
The most promising sign displayed by the Harvard team was the depth it showed at the bottom of the singles ladder. The wins registered by Mukundan and Wang came at the numbers five and six singles slots.
The Crimson is now charged with the confidence that comes after a tight contest against the nation’s best: Harvard believes that if it can hold its own versus Stanford, it can challenge anyone. The last time an opponent played the Cardinal as close as 5-2 was last April against eventual NCAA runner-up UCLA.
“We’re definitely capable of being just as good as them,” Wang said. “We’re a talented team, we’re a deep team, and I think we have the potential to be just as good as Stanford.”
—Staff writer Jonathan Lehman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.