The Harvard men’s tennis team’s seven-match winning streak will be put on the line this weekend when it opens up Ivy League play at the Beren Tennis Center with two matches against Columbia and Cornell.
The Crimson (12-4, 0-0 Ivy) has won ten out of its last eleven contests and enters the weekend ranked 18th in the country, according to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings.
“This team really tries hard to get better every day,” Harvard coach Dave Fish said. “They are not that concerned with winning and losing. Instead, they just stay really focused on improving their game….They don’t base their estimation of their play based on wins and losses, but just try and play hard all the time.”
The team has not competed in two weeks since tallying three straight victories in the Mission Valley Spring Classic in San Diego over the University of Alabama-Birmingham, San Diego State, and Drake.
“We had a really good week in California,” sophomore Shaun Chaudhuri said. “We played really well against some very talented teams, so I think we are looking good going into the weekend, although every Ivy League team is going to be tough.”
The Lions (11-5, 1-0) have also been hot, winning five of their last six contests, and are coming off a tough win in Ancient Eight play against the Big Red, 4-3. Columbia is ranked 40th in the nation and is led by sophomore Winston Lin, who ranks 52nd for singles players.
“We know Columbia is very good,” Fish said. “But we have also had really good results. [Lin] is very strong, but we have some strong guys too. We know that their singles strength is very formidable, but we hope that our doubles teams can give us a leg up.”
The Crimson does not have a competitor that ranks in the top 125 singles players, but the doubles team of sophomore Denis Nguyen and junior Casey MacMaster ranks 65th and is 8-2 on the season.
“There’s very little difference between being ranked [18th] in the country and being ranked much higher,” Fish said. “It really just comes down to the little things, and these teams are very close together matchup-wise.”
What makes the Crimson such a highly regarded team is its depth; Harvard is 11-4 and 12-2 at the 4th and 5th singles spots, respectively, and is 58-31 in its doubles matches.
Cornell (11-5, 0-1) ranks 48th in the nation after having lost to the Lions last week. Since the beginning of March, the Big Red has struggled, going 3-4, its worst stretch of the season.
But this is not the first time that the Crimson has seen Cornell. On February 16th, the two teams battled and the Big Red won, 4-2. This loss did not count towards Ivy League totals, as it was part of the ECAC Division I Indoor Team Tournament, which Cornell won after beating Columbia, Brown, and Harvard.
“It’s actually nice that we’ve played the team,” Chaudhuri said. “We kind of know the way they play. It’s fun and a challenge to play a team that beat us before.”
Last year, the Crimson finished first in the Ivy League with a record of 6-1, went to the NCAA tournament where it lost in the second round, and ultimately finished the season ranked 24th. This marked Harvard’s first Ancient Eight title since 2008.
“Last year’s was a really great campaign,” Fish said. “But we came into the Cornell-Columbia weekend and got taken down, as Columbia really did a number on us.”
Harvard lost to the Lions in that match, its only conference loss of the season. The team will look to avenge that match and the loss to the Big Red in February on its own courts this weekend.
“It’s nice that we get to play at home this time,” Fish said. “From all reports, we think there’s going to be a terrific crowd, and there is a lot of excitement building around that.”
If the Crimson can pull out victories in crucial Ivy matchups this weekend, then it will have high hopes of winning the conference and going to another NCAA tournament.
“I think that we have a good chance to repeat [an Ivy League championship] this year,” Chaudhuri said. “We have been pretty hot recently and have a target on our back, but I think we will come out focused and ready to play, and we should have a good chance going forward.”