Crimson junior co-captain Alex Steinroeder was up a set, but couldn’t close the deal. With Dartmouth’s Diego Pedraza serving up 3-2 and a break in the second set, the two players were locked in a fierce dogfight, with neither player able to claim the game.
Eleven times the score reached deuce before a Pedraza forehand clipped the top of the net cord and sailed wide, finally handing the game to Steinroeder, who punctuated the victory with a fist pump.
It was a game that was emblematic of the type of day the Harvard men’s tennis team had—the squad played consistently well throughout the match, but the Big Green (18-6, 5-2 Ivy) continued to fight back and hang around before the Crimson ultimately slipped by at the end.
Eventually, the Crimson (17-6, 6-1) was able to close out No. 42 Dartmouth, 4-1, to secure a solo second-place finish in the Ivy League and a near-certain at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament in front of a packed house on Senior Day at the Murr Center.
Although Columbia has already taken the Ancient Eight title after a perfect 7-0 conference season, Harvard’s No. 33 national ranking should be high enough for the Crimson to earn its third straight appearance in the NCAA Championships.
The Crimson and Big Green entered the matchup with identical 5-1 Ivy records, meaning that the contest would decide both second place in the conference and positioning for a national championship bid.
“Dartmouth is a good team who was fighting for their season,” Steinroeder said. “If they won, they would make NCAAs, so we knew it would be a tight match.”
Harvard came out of the gates in doubles looking like it had something to play for. Freshman Brian Yeung and sophomore Nicky Hu broke their opponents early and often en route to an 8-2 win, while freshman Sebastian Beltrame and junior Christo Schultz prevailed, 8-6, at No. 3.
Junior Denis Nguyen and co-captain Casey MacMaster took the win, 8-5, on the first court to send MacMaster out victorious in his final home match.
“It all started with a really strong doubles point,” Steinroeder said. “All three teams played really clean doubles. They had lots of energy and there was a great crowd, and all those factors helped us get off to a good start.”
With a 1-0 lead in the bag, the Crimson continued to shine in singles. At the sixth singles spot, Hu nearly blanked his opponent, 6-1, in the first set, before closing out the second set, 6-4. Dartmouth’s Dovydas Sakinis was too much for Nguyen on court one, confounding him with lefty groundstrokes and narrowing the Harvard advantage to 2-1.
But Beltrame finished off Chris Kipouras on the second court, 7-5, 6-2, as the tall freshman pounded his opponent with a powerful serve and groundstrokes to make the score 3-1.
That gave the Crimson three chances for victory: Yeung on the fifth court, Steinroeder on court four, and junior Shaun Chaudhuri on court three, all locked in tight battles in their respective second sets.
Down 4-5, Yeung broke his opponent to even the ledger, but promptly was broken back and lost the set, 7-5. Steinroeder lost his wild second set, 6-4, after nearly every game went to deuce.
“It really didn’t look like it was rolling our way for a while,” Harvard coach Dave Fish '72 said. “Each of those three matches could’ve gone against us.”