Early Lessons From Top Squads

Crimson faces three teams in the nation’s top 30 in California

It’s nice to be the defending Ivy League champion, but the Harvard men’s tennis team learned the hard way this weekend that it cannot rest on its laurels if it is to break into the highest echelon of collegiate tennis. Given that the team has had no official practices and that it is still tuning up for important fall tournaments in the coming months, the Crimson faced one of the toughest lineups imaginable at the Napa Valley Collegiate Invitational.

In one weekend, Harvard took on as many top 30 teams as it did all of last season, playing the defending national champions, No. 1 Georgia, as well as No. 15 Illinois and No. 27 University of California, Berkeley. Though it struggled against the stiff competition, the Crimson impressed its opponents with its competitive play and refusal to give up in the face of what proved to be overpowering competition. The tournament was played in a round-robin format in which each team played the other in a mock dual match.

“The guys left the weekend with a realistic perspective as to how hard we need to work to get to the next level,” co-captain Chris Clayton said. “All the guys were playing well and rallying fine, but we need to work on closing out points, especially ones that we’ve worked to stretch out.”

No. 69 Clayton notched an impressive personal win, beating No. 12 Nate Schnugg of Georgia 6-4, 6-2, a win sure to boost his confidence and aggressiveness.

Harvard’s players ran out of steam as matches progressed, losing just enough consistency, pace, or placement to allow their top-flight opponents to pull away.

Playing against Berkeley’s Eoin Heavey, sophomore Alexi Chijoff-Evans won the first set and took the second to six all in the second set tiebreaker.

“At that point, I knew my body would give up,” Chijoff-Evans said. Heavey hit two masterful shots to take the set and fought through Chijoff-Evans most spirited efforts to win the third 7-5.

“The weekend’s play was very encouraging,” Harvard coach Dave Fish ’72 said. “The main thing we’ve seen is that these teams are just stronger, able to go longer. We played great matches with them, they’ve just done it longer than we have.”

Fish added that his players saw the sort of intensity they will have to bring to every practice.

“It’s not just about being stronger or having more stamina,” Fish said of what it takes to reach the level of Georgia, Berkeley, and Illinois. “It’s a level of precision you have to play with the whole time.”

Other notable matches for the Crimson included sophomore Michael Hayes’ victory over Berkeley’s Geoff Chizever, (3-6, 7-6 (14-12), 6-2), co-captain Michael Kalfayan’s demolition of Cal’s Sky Lovill (6-4, 6-1), and freshman Davis Mangham’s defeat of Illinois’ Jordan Knue (7-5, 6-3).

—Staff writer Jonathan B. Steinman can be reached at steinman@fas.harvard.edu.

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