There was no haven to be found. And yet, they persevered, putting forth strong performances against productive players. Competing against relatively familiar competition at the Yale Bulldog Invitational in Brown, Dartmouth, and UMass Amherst, the Harvard women’s tennis team continued to grind its way through the early portion of their fall season.
Led by the tenacious play of captain Annika Ringblom, freshman Anna Li, and freshman Neha Gupta, the Crimson finished with a 1-2 record after falling in a contested match to the Minutemen on Sunday to close out the weekend in New Haven, Conn. Undefeated as a pair in the doubles matches against the Bears and Big Green, Ringblom and Li ended the event identically with a 1-2 record in singles and a 2-1 mark in doubles.
“Anna Li and I were able to sweep doubles this weekend against challenging opponents in the Ivy League,” Ringblom said. “I am proud of the way she competed in singles as well with every single one of her matches going three sets.”
Looking to continue its strong play against Ancient Eight competition after claiming a share of its first Ivy League title since 2009 last spring, Harvard did just that in its opening match against Brown on Friday. The squad finished the day 5-3 and 3-1 in solo and dual play, respectively, against their rivals from Providence.
Four of the Crimson’s five singles victories came from relative newcomers to the team in Gupta, Li and fellow rookies Lia Kiam, and Jenna Moustafa. Completing the weekend with a collective 6-5 record, the freshmen have played competently to begin their Harvard careers.
“The transition from juniors to college tennis is always different for each player, but the freshmen this year have really embraced college tennis and are playing great,” sophomore Irene Lu said. “They all have made contributions in singles and doubles, and it is nice to have them bring their own, new style to the team.”
Gupta, in fact, remains undefeated, 5-0, on the season in singles, having sequentially swept her opponents from Brown, Dartmouth, and UMass Amherst in decisive fashion. The freshman played admirably in doubles, as well, as she and sophomore Jenna Friedel claimed the Crimson’s lone victory in the format against UMass Amherst, 6-4.
Friedel has emerged as one of Harvard’s top doubles performers so far this season, as her lone loss on the weekend came in a tiebreaker to the Dartmouth duo of freshman Abigail Chiu and sophomore Allison McCann. The Mill Valley, Calif. native is just shy of sophomore Lexi Milunovich’s team-leading 4-1 mark.
“As a returning sophomore, Jenna Friedel is getting right back into it as one of our top doubles players,” Ringblom said. “She was able to pair up with multiple partners this weekend to capture some wins with her strong ability to close the net and grind from the baseline.”
Milunovich and Lu also formed a partnership this weekend. The sophomores decidedly won both of their matches as a duo against Ancient Eight competition, as neither of their opponents picked up more than four games. Clearly, doubles proved profitable for the Crimson.
“Our doubles play this weekend was a promising start to this season,” Lu said. “Doubles is something we always like to work on, so it is good we already have a solid base to build from.”
As a 1-7 record displays, singles was not as promising for Harvard against Dartmouth. But polishing off the weekend with a 4-4 showing against the Minutemen in their sunsequent match provided some respite for the squad in solo play.
Having been competitive in each match so far this season, the Crimson looks to continue to build confidence against strong competition that it can utilize in Ivy League play in the spring.
“In my four years, this is definitely the strongest that have seen our team start out in the beginning of the season and I am excited to see how much sharper we can get over the next few tournaments,” Ringblom said. “We are looking forward to getting back to the courts this week to work on our fitness and mental game with more matchplay before our home tournament next weekend.”
—Staff writer Jackson M. Reynolds can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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