For the fifth straight year, the Harvard women’s tennis team (1-0) won its season opener. The team defeated the Cleveland State Vikings (0-1), 7-0, sweeping every match played. The Crimson came into the match with a preseason ranking of 74, a couple spots behind Ivy League rivals Columbia (no. 73) and Princeton (no. 71).
Harvard won every singles match except for one in straight sets, with freshman Hai-Le Kong surrendering a quick first set, 6-3, before taking the next set, 6-1, and the tiebreaker, 10-2. In other singles matches, freshmen Amanda Lin and Crystal Yen dropped only one game between them in dispatching Cleveland State players Ellen Folkers and Mengdi Liu.
“I think the team competed very well for their first match of the season,” coach Traci Green said. “I’m really impressed with their effort and proud of the freshmen with the way they hung in there during some shaky games.
The Crimson started quickly as co-captain Kristin Norton and freshman Amy He jumped out to a quick 8-1 doubles victory. Norton and He broke twice to open the match and quickly went up 5-0 before their opponents saw a game point. After saving two break points at 5-1, Norton and He lost two points in the next three games. Co-captain Hideko Tachibana and freshman Amanda Lin won their match, 8-3, to clinch the doubles point for Harvard.
“The freshmen have been gaining a lot of experience in doubles over the last few months,” Green said. “Junior tennis is a lot different than the college game and they’ve improved a lot over the last couple months. The main area of improvement has been the mental side. They are a lot more composed out there and that has given them a lot of confidence.”
Playing lines one and two for the Crimson, Tachibana and Norton struggled out of the gate. Tachibana was broken in the first game of her match; Norton lost serve in her second. After breaking back, Tachibana was broken again before running off a streak of 9 straight games. Using low slices and high topspin to keep her opponent off balance, Tachibana’s game elicited audible sounds of frustration from opponent Alex Power in a 6-2, 6-1 victory.
Norton broke back in the fifth game of the set and again in the seventh to take a lead at 4-3. Punctuating the second break with a fist pump and a loud “Come on”, Norton served out the set to take the first 6-4. In the second set, down another break early, Norton ran off five consecutive games to end the match with a 6-3 second set victory.
“Norton is definitely the vocal leader on this team,” Green said. “It’s only been one match but [I can tell] this team has a lot of heart and they’ve been very dedicated to improvement. We are a bit rusty but I liked the way that we were competing out there and I liked the way that we showed effort and determination.”
After playing the Harvard Fall Invitation in November, the team had more than two months off before starting the spring season. In the fall, the team competes as individuals—entering players in draws but not moving forward through the tournaments as a team. In the spring, the format changes and every member of the team competes together
“I think that today they had a lot of energy, a lot of focus, and they played as a team,” assistant coach Debbie Goldfine said. “With tennis players, that can be different. The team was focused on their own matches but they also had an eye out for others and even the people that were not on the court were very focused on what was happening and were very engaged. They worked a lot on match play and point play [over the break] and I think that made a difference today.
—Staff writer David Freed can be reached at email@example.com.