Harvard's hopes for an EITA championship were dealt a stunning blow yesterday as Columbia took advantage of bed court conditions to register a 9-0 victory at New York. The Crimson will attempt to salvage a weekend split when they play the league's defending champions at Princeton this afternoon.
The team went into the match with only two days of outside practice, and it was unable to adjust to the rain-soaked clay courts. The high winds coming off of the East River were also a factor, but coach Jack Barnaby has a simple explanation for the disaster, " they were better than us, and they were lucky."
Harris Masterson was off his game at first singles, and lost to freshman Rick Fagel in straight sets. Ken Lindner had lost two days of practice due to a pinched serve, and he lost to Columbia captain Doug Gruenther, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2. "My shoulder didn't bother me during the match, except possibly psychologically," Lindner said after his match, but Barnaby decided not to play him in doubles.
Freshman John Inguard was turned back at third singles by Bobby Biana, 6-3, 6-1, and Columbia's freshman star Henry Bunis had little trouble with Tom Loring at fourth singles, 6-1, 6-1.
Harvard came close to breaking through at the bottom of the singles ladder, but for the third year in a row Randy Barnett lost to Kirk Moritz in three sets, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1. Co-captain Chris Nielson got the jump on Mark Massey, but then yielded, 6-7, 6-1, 6-1.
Two of the three doubles matches were abbreviated due to darkness, and Harvard came out on the short end both times. Gardy Rowbotham filled in as Masterson's partner at first doubles, and when the first two sets were split, 6-3, 5-7, the match was decided with a nine point tie-breaker. Massey and Binns won, 5-4.
After losing the first set 6-7, Nielson and Inguard were winning in the second, 4-2. Columbia gave Harvard the set, but in the tie-breaker Gruenther and Bunis won the match, 5-1. At third doubles Fagel and Don Petrine best Loring and Barnett. 6-3, 6-4.
Nielson called the loss "aesthetically traumatic," and the team will need nothing less than a psychological metamorphosis if it is to come up with a victory against Princeton today.
Last year the Crimson managed a Three-three split in singles against the undefeated EITA champions, but when rain moved the doubles indoors, Princeton swept all three matches to win, 6-3, Princeton's record this season stands at 6-1.
The weather should not affect the outcome of this year's match since all of Princeton's courts are now hard surfaces, and Harvard has been practicing on the Palmer-Dixon courts all spring. Today's weather forecast for the Princeton area calls for showers.
Bill Summers is in his first year a coach of Princeton's varsity after ten seasons with the freshmen, and he considers this year's team to be slightly weaker than last year's. The Tigers' strength is in their top three singles players, and Harvard will need to take two of the bottom three singles matches and at least tow doubles matches to keep their hopes for the EITA title alive.
Tiger Captain Bill Colson is back for his third year at first singles, and his brother Dean, a sophomore, has moved in at number two. Harold Rabinowitz did not play singles against Dartmouth yesterday and may be at less than full strength, but Harvard's Inguard will still be a definite underdog.
Mike Shapiro is back form last year's team at number four, but Rick Rampell and Brad Wyche are both newcomers at five and six.
The Colson brothers will be tough to beat at first doubles, especially if Lindner's shoulder is still bothering him, but Harvard should have the edge at second and third doubles against Shapiro and Rabinowitz and Rampell and Doug Shaeffer.
In addition to the regular number of EITA matches, Harvard, Princeton and Yale play four more singles and two more doubles, and even if the Crimson should lose the main event, it has the depth to take the Big Three title away from the Tigers.
Assuming that Princeton beats Harvard today, the EITA championship will probably be decided when the Tigers host Columbia on April 29. The other major contender is Penn, which beat Navy, 7-2, earlier this week.
Summers was skeptical of George Seewagon's hopes for creating Southern-style tennis program at Columbia. "The higher caliber of tennis is excellent for the league and Eastern tennis in general, but I doubt he can field a team like Rice's without breaking the league rules about recruiting," Summers said.