For the No. 44 Harvard men’s tennis team (14-6, 6-0 Ivy), superlatives were in order this weekend, as they cruised past Brown 7-0 in Providence on Sunday and crushed Yale 5-2 at the Beren Tennis Center on Friday.
“Everybody was ready to play,” head coach Dave Fish ’72 said. “People were just cutting loose, playing with confidence. We were pretty formidable.”
Indeed, the Crimson’s challenging early-season schedule seems to have paid off brilliantly, as Harvard has had no challenge with any of its ivy League opponents since the Columbia match in the first week. The team has been reliably nabbing the momentum-determining doubles point and then never looking back.
With Sunday’s win, the Crimson guarantees itself a berth in the NCAA tournament. Wednesday’s match against Dartmouth will help determine Harvard’s seeding.
“We’re in a position to play our way into a third seed,” Fish said. Each draw in the tennis tournament has four seeds, and a No. 3 seed is likely to play a team ranked No. 17-32, rather than a team in the very highest echelons of collegiate tennis.
“If you go in No. 4 you may be in for a short trip,” Fish said.
The Ivy League championship is this team’s first in four years, meaning that no current Harvard player has played on an championship team.
“This is my first Ivy championship, and it feels glorious,” co-captain Dan Nguyen said.
HARVARD 7, BROWN 0
Determination was the name of the game for Harvard on Sunday, and the team was well-rewarded for its efforts, winning every singles match in straight sets after handily taking the doubles set.
“We’ve realized in the past few matches that whoever gets the doubles point gets a huge momentum boost,” Nguyen said, “so we made it a point to come out with intensity.”
The No. 37 doubles duo of senior Ashwin Kumar and junior Sasha Ermakov did their business as usual, winning 8-4 at No. 1.
“The experience we have with each other is paying off,” Kumar said. The duo has now won eleven straight matches.
Nguyen and freshman Aba Omodele-Lucien clinched the doubles point with an 8-5 victory at No. 2. At No. 3, sophomore Michael Hayes and freshman Alexei Chijoff-Evans had a 5-2 lead, but they failed to hold, eventually losing 5-8.
In singles, Brown’s players lacked the firepower to put any Harvard player on his heels.
Both freshmen, who have surged ever since their struggles against Cornell in their first Ivy League match, combined to lose a total of four games.
“For me, it’s just a matter of confidence,” Chijoff-Evans said. “There have been no dumb shots. Nothing has been incredible, but every shot has been solid.”
Chijoff-Evans won 6-0, 6-1 at No. 5 and Omodele-Lucien won 6-1, 6-2 at No. 6.
At No. 3, Nguyen was energized by his lackluster performance on Friday, winning 6-3, 6-4 in what was, remarkably, the Crimson’s longest singles match of the day. Meanwhile, Ermakov at No. 4 went down 3-0 in the first set but then rebounded and won seven straight sets to put himself on firm footing for the 6-3, 6-2 victory.
Kumar won 6-2, 6-4 at No. 1 and Clayton won 6-3, 6-1 at No. 2.
HARVARD 5, YALE 2
Despite the blemish in the score, Harvard’s performance against Yale on Friday showed that the team was ready to assume the Ivy League crown.
After winning the doubles point with victories at No. 1 and 3, the Crimson quickly pounced on the Bulldogs, clinching the match with three singles victories from the bottom of the lineup barely an hour after singles play had started.
Both Ermakov and Chijoff-Evans at No. 4 and 5, respectively bagled their opponents in the first set and then went on to win the second set 6-2.
Omodele-Lucien started off slow at No. 6, but found his rhythm in the first set tiebreaker, which he won 7-2 on the strength of leaden run-around-the-backhand forehands. He cruised through the next set 6-1.
At No. 2, Clayton went down a break early, but soon after knocked his opponent out of sync by mixing potent offensive shots into his trademark “I’ll get anything back” game.
In Nguyen’s match at No. 3, things refused to go Harvard’s way.
“Nothing felt right, I felt a step slow to every ball,” Nguyen said of his 6-3, 6-7, 10-8 supertiebreaker loss. “I’m just going to say it was one of those days when I couldn’t find the court.”
Kumar’s match at No. 1 appeared to be in the bag, with Kumar serving at 5-4 in the second set with three match points. But then Kumar careened off the rails, hitting four straight double faults. He never recovered his swagger from that dry spell, eventually losing 3-6, 7-6, 11-9.
—Staff writer Jonathan B. Steinman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.