Capitalizing on momentum from strong preseason tournament performances, the Harvard men’s tennis team opened its season with an impressive showing at the University of Virginia’s Fall Invitational tournament.
Leading the Crimson charge was freshman Alexei Chijoff-Evans, who, in his first collegiate tennis experience, won his singles bracket with three consecutive three-set victories.
The Crimson was a strong presence among the tournament’s nine separate singles brackets and four separate doubles brackets, an unusual format in which no ultimate champion was determined and 16-player brackets were labeled by color.
“I was really happy with the way everyone competed,” junior co-captain Chris Clayton said. “Even when people lost, they went down swinging.”
But it was Chijoff-Evans who stole the show.
Going into his 10th match in three days, Chijoff-Evans doubted himself.
“I thought it was a bad idea to play doubles immediately before singles,” Chijoff-Evans said, referring to the doubles bracket championship he played with senior co-captain Dan Nguyen just before, losing to a duo from Columbia, 9-7. “I had lots of blisters, and I thought it was going to tighten me up. But the result was to the contrary.”
Chijoff-Evans cruised past Western Michigan’s Michael Calderone, 6-3, 6-1, earning the championship of the tournament’s black singles bracket.
To make it to the final, Chijoff-Evans fought through the mental difficulties of two rain-delayed matches and the self-doubt that can so easily bring down the level of a freshman’s play.
“Going into the first match, I knew I was going to be tentative,” Chijoff-Evans said, “but I took that to the nth degree.”
The first rain delay allowed coach Dave Fish ’72 to give a pep talk that set Chijoff-Evans on the right track.
“[Fish] brought it to my attention that this is kind of irrelevant, and that I should just go out and play, and it worked out for me,” Chijoff-Evans said.
Chijoff-Evans cruised through the remainder of the match.
Among other Harvard players, Clayton made it to the semifinals of the blue bracket, where he lost, 7-6, 7-6, to Denver’s Adam Holstrom, who ended last season ranked No. 24.
Clayton lost the protracted first tiebreaker by a score of 11-9 after having been up, 6-3.
Nguyen, who was also in the blue bracket, won the consolation bracket after losing his opening-round match, not allowing his opponents more than two games a set in his last two matches.
Senior Ashwin Kumar lost in the consolation finals of the yellow bracket, while junior Sasha Ermakov lost in the semifinals of the white bracket.
Sophomore Michael Hayes made it to the consolation semifinals of the orange bracket.
The Crimson’s two other freshmen, Will Guzick and Aba Omedele-Lucien, each advanced one round, making it to the quarterfinals of their respective brackets before being eliminated.
In doubles, aside from Chijoff-Evans and Nguyen, who lost in the finals of their bracket, the pair of Guzick and Clayton won the consolation title in their bracket, allowing their opponents no more than three games in their last three pro-sets.
Ermakov and Kumar advanced to the quarterfinals of their brackets, and Hayes and Omedele-Lucien made it the consolation semifinals of their bracket.
—Staff writer Jonathan B. Steinman can be reached at email@example.com.