The Harvard men’s tennis team is still months away from its primary season next spring. But already, the performances of a handful of its rookie members have given the squad hope that this year’s freshman class can push the Crimson over the top.
After graduating two seniors from last year’s team that finished last spring tied for third place in the Ivy League, Harvard coach Dave Fish ’72 has brought in a group of five freshmen from a variety of backgrounds.
Denis Nguyen has been quick to distinguish himself in the early going. Nguyen recorded a combined 4-2 record in singles and doubles action at the Chowder Fest tournament in late September, the team’s first event of the fall.
“Denis is a very talented young player,” Fish said. “We’ve been really pleased with his work ethic—he tries new things and that’s really the mark of somebody who’s going to succeed at the college level.”
Nguyen, who graduated from Canyon High School in Anaheim, Calif., was formerly the 18th-ranked junior player in the country and the top player in his home region of Southern California. Despite plenty of success against the best in the country, Nguyen notes that he arrived on campus with realistic expectations.
“Being near the top of the lineup from the start was definitely a privilege,” he said. “I was proud to be representing Harvard right away.”
But Nguyen isn’t the lone rookie working his way up the depth chart. Alex Steinroeder competed as the Crimson’s second-ranked singles player in the fall opener and teamed up with reigning All-Ivy senior Jonathan Pearlman in doubles. Steinroeder hails from Concord, Mass. and has competed primarily in New England, a region that, Fish notes, lacks a reputation within tennis circles for breeding stellar talent.
But reputation or not, Steinroeder was thrown into the fire right away at the Chowder Fest tournament, pinned against the University of Southern California’s Ray Sarmiento, who made a run to the NCAA championships round of 16 last spring. Steinroeder couldn’t pull off the upset, but he did push the highly touted sophomore to three sets.
“Alex has such a good, innate sense of how to play the game,” Fish noted. “We projected a very bright future for him, and he hasn’t disappointed us at all so far.”
The Class of 2015 is rounded out by Shaun Chaudhuri, Henry Steer, and Brandon Parker. Parker’s road to Harvard has certainly been the most unusual and indirect one. He returned to tennis this fall after a two-year hiatus spent on a missionary trip in Honduras.
“He’s done great considering his rust at the beginning,” Fish said. “He’s just getting better every day.”
Parker earned his first collegiate victory at the Chowder Fest tournament, winning in straight sets after dropping his first match. He also competed in doubles with sophomore Brendan Seaver.
Steer and Chaudhuri got off to strong starts as well. The pair teamed up to record a 2-1 doubles record at the Chowder Fest, while each also competed in singles play.
“Henry has tremendous upside,” Fish said. “He’s very athletic, has a huge forehand, and his serve is becoming a real part of his arsenal.”
Fish praised Chaudhuri for his poise and concentration on the court.