Southern California Trip Not Kind to M. Tennis
With senior Martin Wetzel and sophomore Shantanu Dhaka out of action—and co-captain Jonathan Chu limited to doubles play—the Crimson (7-7) was unable to consistently compete against some of California’s finest.
“The top two guys are out, so everyone else is moving up two spots,” junior Brandon Chiu said. “Those two spots make a big difference.”
Though Harvard struggled as a unit and failed to produce consistent results, the players saw the week as good preparation for the Ivy season and the end-of-year national tournament.
“Despite our injuries, it was a great spring break and a great learning experience,” freshman Ashwin Kumar said. “We learned how to play without our top two dogs of [Chu] and Martin.”
PEPPERDINE 7, HARVARD 0
After a tough three matches in Santa Barbara, Calif., the Crimson traveled south to the warm beaches of Malibu to recuperate. And the No. 7 Waves of Pepperdine made Harvard feel less than welcome, crashing past the Crimson in a 7-0 sweep to give Harvard its fourth straight loss.
“Pepperdine has beaten three top-10 teams this past week,” Kumar said. “We could have made [the matches] a little more competitive, but I don’t think we were expected to win—especially with all our injuries.”
For a while, the Crimson did compete aggressively against the Waves (16-2).
For the first time all week, the 20th-ranked pair of Chu and Kumar played together in the top slot. But the No. 16 pairing of Scott Doerner and Pedro Rico took six of the last nine games to win the match, 8-6.
With Chiu and freshman Dan Nguyen having already lost 8-4 at No. 2, Harvard conceded the doubles point for the third contest in a row.
“Our doubles teams did well but were unable to come away with the results,” Chiu said. “But sometimes you have to find a way to win even if you lose the doubles point.”
The Crimson had no such success finding a road to victory. Pepperdine, playing almost impeccable tennis, swept the singles matches—winning all six in straight sets to complete its shutout of Harvard.
“I think everyone was pumped to play a top-10 team,” Chiu said. “But they just had a little more firepower.”
UC SANTA BARBARA 5, HARVARD 2
In its third and final matchup on UC Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) RecCen Courts, the injury-marred Crimson fell 5-2 to the host school on Thursday afternoon.
The turning point of the contest came during Chu and Chiu’s doubles match against the Gauchos’ top duo of Alex Anselme and Nick Brotman. With the match tied at eight, the USCB pair was able to put away the final game to triumph 9-8 and secure the doubles point for the Gauchos (7-10).
“It was a tough loss,” Chiu said. “It’s always tough to lose the doubles point, especially decided by the tiebreak.”
Harvard’s higher-ranked players were unable to deliver in singles as well, and the Crimson dropped the top four matches in straight sets.
“Our No. 1 through No. 4 were struggling a little bit,” Kumar admitted. “We all played a little bit below our potential.”
SAN DIEGO STATE 5, HARVARD 2
The curse of San Diego continued to haunt Harvard as it fell 5-2 to a strong San Diego State (SDSU) team Tuesday afternoon at UCSB’s RecCen Courts in Santa Barbara, Calif.
“Since injuries have plagued the team the entire season, San Diego State is under-ranked,” said Crimson head coach Dave Fish ’72. “They’re probably a top-25 team, and we would have been hard-pressed to beat them even with our full lineup.”
Though Wetzel and Dhaka remained out of action, Harvard was able to compete against a strong Aztec (10-5) squad.
Sophomores Scott Denenberg and Gideon Valkin, playing for the first time in the No. 3 doubles slot, traded shot for shot with SDSU’s Markus Dickhardt and Eugenio Romero, but eventually lost 9-8.
The Crimson’s top pairing of Chu and Chiu also competed fiercely against the Aztecs’ No. 1 pair before falling 8-6 to give SDSU the doubles point.
“Singles, on any given day, is a crapshoot,” Chu said. “That’s why the doubles point is so important. We knew we were going to be in a dogfight, and the doubles point can give you that initial boost of confidence.”
The singles matches went downhill for Harvard as well. Senior Jason Beren, Valkin, and Chiu—playing at No. 6, No. 5, and No. 3, respectively—all lost in straight sets, providing the Aztecs with the three points they needed for the victory.
SAN DIEGO 6, HARVARD 1
Despite getting off to a great start and winning the doubles point, the Crimson was unable to muster much of a challenge against No. 35 San Diego, falling 6-1 to the Toreros on Monday afternoon at UCSB’s RecCen Courts in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Before struggling through its singles matches, Harvard opened the contest on a good note, taking two of three matches to secure the doubles point.
Chu and Chiu dismantled San Diego’s top pairing of Nic Beuque and Mirza Koristovic, powering their way to an 8-5 victory. Although Beren and senior Jordan Bohnen faltered at the No. 3 slot, Kumar and Nguyen rolled past Plotnik and Pierrick Ysern at No. 2 to give the Crimson the early 1-0 lead.
“We played really, really well in doubles,” Chu said. “San Diego has played a lot of matches, so they were really tired. Luckily, a couple of breaks went our way.”
With the end of the doubles slate, however, Harvard’s luck turned for the worse.
From Kumar at No. 1 down to Beren at No. 6, the Crimson lost all of its singles matches.
Only Beren and Denenberg were even able to salvage a set against the hard-hitting Toreros (13-4).
“[San Diego] was just better than we were in singles,” Fish said. “But our guys really fought back and really pushed them. Had we been a couple days into the trip, we might have grabbed a couple matches.”
—Staff writer Karan Lodha can be reached at email@example.com.