A new year usually brings new beginnings. And for the No. 5 Harvard men’s squash team, the time came for one player to finally make his much-anticipated collegiate debut.
Sophomore Ali Farag—the top-ranked junior player in the world and winner of the 2010 Junior World Championship—played his first game for the Crimson (9-0, 1-0 Ivy) on Saturday afternoon at the Murr Center in Harvard’s matchup against No. 9 Penn (3-2, 0-2). A loud audience witnessed Farag’s first win, one of the nine that the home team mustered against a Quaker squad reeling from a loss to Princeton in its last matchup.
“It’s so good to be finally playing for Harvard,” said Farag after his 3-0 individual victory. “I was so nervous at the beginning, so in the first game I was a little conservative. But I’m eager to play tomorrow again [against Princeton].”
It was the Crimson’s first contest of 2012—Harvard had a six-week layoff but barely showed the effects of such a long respite. The Crimson added an eighth game to its streak of 9-0 wins.
“It was the culmination of hard work,” Harvard coach Mike Way said. “There’s always something that as a coach you look out for to make them better for the next match … and what I saw today was good concentration.”
Center court featured three key matchups, starting with sophomore Gary Power against Daniel Judd at the No. 3 spot. After winning the first set, 11-2, Power had less trouble taking the second, hitting several skilled shots to keep his opponent to one point.
Power ran out to a 4-0 lead to start the third set, but Judd showed some life, taking the next two. But the sophomore added four more points to his total before Judd got his third, and Power closed out the set with a 3-1 run, 11-4.
Sophomore Brandon McLaughlin had a relatively harder time against Penn’s Danny Greenberg in the No. 2 matchup. McLaughlin shut out Greenberg for the first three points, but the Quaker closed the gap at 5-3. It was the closest Greenberg got before McLaughlin came out victorious in the first set, 11-6.
The two players ran out to a 3-3 deadlock before McLaughlin created some separation to win the second set, 11-6. Greenberg displayed his frustration in the third set, mustering only four points in a sweep.
“Brandon and Gary had a solid day,” Way said. “They are the leaders of the team—they’re leaders in attitude and work ethic, which is a bonus.”
With all eyes on center court, Farag made his long-awaited debut against Penn’s Thomas Mattsson at the No. 1 spot. The crowd cheered loudly as the sophomore won his first two points easily, but Mattsson was not fazed, scoring four straight points to expose Farag’s nerves.
“I was so nervous in the beginning, but it was my first match,” Farag said.
Farag tied Mattsson at five, and the two traded points until they reached 8-8. Farag put together a 3-0 run to take a close first set, 11-8.
The sophomore seemed more composed in the second set, running out to a 5-1 lead before Mattsson could score his second point. Mattsson played the T well to reduce the deficit to 7-5, but Farag took the next four points to put the Quaker behind, 2-0.
In the final set, Mattsson went up on the scoreboard for the first time since the starting frame, 2-0, before Farag came back to exchange points to tie it at five. The No. 1 junior player then went on a 6-1 run to win his first collegiate match, 11-6.
“In the beginning I wasn’t playing that well because I was nervous, so I was a bit conservative,” Farag said. “I wasn’t going for shots, but in the second and third [sets], I was going for shots, and that made the difference.”
The rest of the team also racked up 3-0 wins, sweeping all nine matchups of the day.
—Staff writer Brian A. Campos can be reached at email@example.com