The Harvard women's tennis team enjoyed a very successful spring break, reeling off wins against five out of six teams, including highly ranked University of Miami and University of Wisconsin.
Yesterday, the team celebrated a homecoming by trashing the Eagles of Boston College, 8-1. In the first match played at Harvard's Palmer-Dixon courts since the beginning of November, the Crimson (11-3) assured themselves of victory by winning 5 out of the 6 singles matches, and completed the rout with exciting dominant doubles play.
Harvard, ranked 29th nationally, expected the contest to be a neck-in-neck clash of two regional powers, as the 72nd-ranked Eagles (6-4) boasted a solid record against other Ivy teams and featured heavily-recruited transfer Barbara Prevail, a former junior doubles partner of new world No. 1 Martina Hingis. The Crimson's star sophomore Ivy Wang was forced to take on the mysterious phenom.
"I was psyched out for the first 15 minutes, and lost the first 4 games, but then I regrouped," said Wang.
Indeed, last year's League's Ivy Rookie of the Year stormed back to win 9 out of the next 10 games and dismantle Prevail 7-5, 6-1.
"Ivy came out tired and out of her game, but then she played great," said Coach Gordon Graham.
The Crimson were apparently inspired by this performance, and got out to a quick 4-0 start by virtue of victories by No. 2 sophomore Rosemary She, No. 3 senior captain Gina Majmudar, and No. 5 freshman Aparna Ravi. She won a tight two-set match 6-4, 7-6, and Ravi breezed past her opponent 6-2, 6-2. However, it was Majmudar's match that broke the Eagles' confidence. After dropping the second set, she regrouped to defeat BC's captain Shannon Byrne 6-4, 5-7, 6-2.
"I usually play close matches," said Majmudar, echoing the sentiments of her teammates and coach, who added that she is the most consistent player on the team through her ability to pull out these matches.
Harvard got a slight scare when B.C. won at No. 4 singles and was threatening to do the same at No. 6. Down a set, however, junior Julia Kim elevated her game, amidst cheers of her teammates, to defeat her tiring opponent 2-6, 6-0, 6-2. This, in effect, assured victory for the Crimson, but the remaining matches were all played well into dusk.
The Crimson's dominating singles performance was especially impressive when it is taken into account that junior Gabriela Hricko, who normally plays at No. 3, had to sit out the match with an injured leg, forcing all players below her to move up a spot against theoretically more difficult opponents.
"I like the way we are dealing with this adversity," coach Graham said.
The doubles portion of the competition--played in a pro-set format--was a work of precision and power. Wang and She teamed up to dominate their opponents 8-4, firing shots between the Eagles players, as well as at unbelievable angles. Appropriately, the match was ended by Wang sending a strong forehand up the middle.
At the second doubles spot, Kim and freshman Vedica Jain faced the combination of BC's top singles players, Prevail and Mercedes del Valle. Down a break of serve at 5-6, the Crimson did not give up, but broke back twice within the next three games to win 8-6.
"We told each other to play simple points, to play smart," said Jain.
In the final match, Ravi and fellow freshman Kristen Flink got out to a quick start 5-2, going on to defeat their opponents 8-5.
The coach was very pleased with the effort. "Only Stanford and Florida are unbeatable," he said. "Our doubles are starting to come around--a pleasant surprise. Who knows how well we can do?"
There is, indeed, reason for optimism. The Crimson is entering a portion of its schedule that includes many Ivy teams, which are eminently beatable. The two-time defending champions should have little problem with the other members of the Ancient Eight except possibly Penn and Brown.
There is one road contest, however, that brings fire into the eyes of the players. "William and Mary," said the players in unison. The 7th-ranked nemesis defeated the Crimson twice last year, including a showdown in the East Regional finals.
Overall, the young Harvard team--Majmudar is the only senior--may be one of the best ever. The coaches and the players agree that the lofty goal of getting back to the NCAAs and establishing itself as a national power is within reach. With Hricko coming back from her injury soon, the talent-laden team should be exciting to follow in the coming weeks.