To kick off the 2011-2012 season, the Crimson men’s tennis team hosted some of the nation’s best collegiate tennis programs this weekend at the annual Harvard Chowder Fest tournament held at Beren Tennis Center.
Ranked 73rd in the nation, the hosts went up against Michigan Wolverines, 10th-ranked Texas A&M Aggies, and three-time defending NCAA national champion USC Trojans.
The start of the action on Friday proved to be tough for Harvard as Texas A&M swept its top five doubles team. The Crimson demonstrated its resilience in the afternoon session, crushing the Trojans’ top four doubles teams in decisive fashion.
The doubles team of co-captain Alistair Felton and sophomore Casey MacMaster, playing in the No. 1 position, shut down Daniel Nguyen and Ray Sarmiento of USC, 9-7, to get their teammates going in the right direction against the nation’s top team.
“Casey and I just came out with lots of energy and played really aggressive doubles,” Felton said after the victory on Friday. “In all of the matches, we were going toe-to-toe with [USC], which was a really encouraging sign.”
In singles competition on Friday, USC took seven out of eight matches in the evening session.
The only Harvard player to record a victory was junior Andy Nguyen, who defeated USC’s Corey Smith, 6-3, 7-5, at the No. 8 position.
Saturday mirrored much of Friday for the Crimson, who dropped nine out of 10 singles matches to the Aggies in the morning session.
Denis Nguyen, younger brother of the lone winner on the first day of action, recorded the only singles victory of the day, beating the Aggies’ Colin Hoover in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3, at the No. 3 position.
Coming off an impressive victory over USC’s top doubles duo, the pair of Felton and MacMaster fell to Texas A&M’s Junior Ore and Alexis Klegou, 8-3. But once again, Harvard’s doubles rebounded, securing two victories in the afternoon session. Sophomore John Thornton and junior Joshua Tchan bested the Aggies’ Jeremy Efferding and Beau Blackshear, 8-2. To cap off the second day of play, the lethal combination of the Nguyen brothers defeated Michigan’s Alex Buzzi and Barret Franks in a 9-8 nail-biter.
Sunday featured the final singles flight of the tournament between Harvard and Michigan. The Crimson edged out the victory in the series, taking six out of the eight matches.
The strong performance of all the Harvard singles players conveyed the squad’s resilience once again, as they had lost all but two singles matches over the first two days.
Harvard coach Dave Fish ’72, entering his 35th season at the helm of the tennis program, viewed the tournament this weekend as a learning experience.
“We had not had any competitions leading up to this one,” said Fish, the coach with the most wins in Harvard men’s tennis history. “We decided to let the freshmen get their sea legs and the team really trained. We’re getting as much done in these first three weeks as we can.”
Indeed, Harvard has been hard at work in the first few weeks of the season, but the passion that the team has shown this weekend says something about where the team is headed.
“We have five freshmen coming in and each one of them is bringing a lot to the team,” Felton said. “I think the attitudes on this team mean that we’re going to have a good year.”
This past spring, the Crimson fell short of an Ivy League title for the third year in a row. Fish knows that a conference title is always on the minds of his players, but he asserts that it is not their only goal.
“Clearly that will be one of our background goals, but like anything else we will have process goals,” Fish said. “If we get better at a task each day and do the best we can, then we will be fine.”