In most parts of the country, dangerous animals with sharp teeth and razor-like talons are kept inside cages. But in New Jersey tomorrow, one such animal, the Princeton Tigers tennis team, will be roaming free just about 88 feet from the Crimson netmen. The Harvard mission is not only to come out alive but to slay the Tigers, and grab a share of the Eastern League tennis title.
Some observers would call that mission impossible.
The Tigers, ranked 12th nationally, are awsome. Led by Jay Lapidus, who is ranked seventh in the nation. Princeton has rampaged through 12 opponents mercilessly on the way to what it hopes will be its first unbeaten season in 20 years.
The Tigers have beaten most of the best teams in the East. During their southern trip they breezed past Miami and ACC teams Duke and North Carolina. Navy gave the Tigers their biggest scare, taking the bottom four singles matches, but Princeton swept the doubles to come out on top.
Princeton coach Dave Benjamin seemed thankful for the Navy scare yesterday. "Two good things happened to us this year. The Navy match shocked us out of any complacency we may have had, and Harvard beat Yale so decisively that we really have a tremendous amount of motivation. We're higher for this match than for any league match this year, and maybe for any match all year."
Tiger sophomore Lapidus is an outstanding player who continues to improve now that he has recovered from a bout with herpes. He is in terrific shape thanks to a training regimen that includes five miles and four hours of tennis a day. He pulverizes his ground strokes almost as hard as Jimmy Connors, has a vicious serve, and a volley game that used to be his Achilles heel but has recently been dipped in the river Styx.
Lapidus will face off against Crimson star Dan Pompan, who won the New Englands this weekend without dropping a set and has not been beaten since returning from Harvard's spring trip to California. Pompan has been playing well but will need a miracle to come out on top.
The matchups the rest of the way all lean at least slightly the black and orange way. At two Harvard's Andy Chaikovsky squares off against Leif Shiras, a player who has beaten big guns from super tennis schools Texas. Pepperdine and SMU.
The Crimson chances depend on upsets down the order. Gutsy Scott Walker must win against Steve Meister at three. Bob Horne will have to cope with the big serve of Jim Zimmerman at four, a man who outhit a herpes-ridden Lapidus earlier in the year in the Princeton Invitational.
If it rains today and the match is played indoors on Jadwin Gym's super-fast tennis courts, the Crimson's chances will suffer. Princeton is very tough outdoors at home. They are almost unbeatable indoors.
An optimistic alumnus might say that nobody expected Harvard to thrash Yale. 8-1. And, he might go on, if that was difficult, beating Princeton is "impossible." Maybe it will take a little longer than the one hour and 38 minutes Harvard took to put away the Elis.
But remember, that's an optimistic alumnus.