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There was no domination from James Blake or Kunj Majmudar. John Doran was not ripping up his opponent. But things went just fine for the men's tennis team this weekend, thank you very much.
The Crimson Fall Classic was designed as a chance to provide match experience for middle-of-the-lineup players on some of the top teams in the nation--those players that don't get the chance to play in the Collegiate Grand Slams but still count just as much as the big guns when it comes to team matches.
So it was a time for the more unfamiliar faces like junior Joe Green, sophomore Andrew Styperek and freshman William Lee to step up and show their mettle against foes from Illinois (ranked No. 10 nationally last year), Alabama (ranked in the top 25 last season) and Ivy foes Princeton and Dartmouth.
The biggest story of the Crimson's tournament may have been the stellar play of newcomer Lee. The freshman dropped his opening match of the Tournament to Alabama's Chris McCrae, but that was the last bad thing that happened.
Moving into the consolation draw, Lee got better with each match. The run culminated in the consolation finals where Lee upended Princeton's top player and the tournament's No. 2 seed Kyle Kleigerman in a 6-3, 6-3 decision.
"I returned serve really well," Lee said, "I got up 4-0 in the first, and he was not returning well. He does not move very well, so I moved him around with angles and different speeds."
Lee reached the consolation finals by beating sophomore teammate Anthony Barker in a 7-5, 2-6, 6-2 battle in the opening round of the backdraw. This may have been Lee's toughest match of the tournament as he then dominated Alabama's Weylu Chang 6-4, 7-5.
Green turned in Harvard's strongest singles result. Green was an integral part of the Crimson's ECAC Tournament victory. He reached the semifinals of the singles draw where he faced off with the Tournament's No. 1 seed Jakub Tepely of Illinois.
Tepely came out strong and looked to be cruising to the title after a 6-1 first set victory. However, the veteran Green bounced back to split sets after a 4-6 second-set win. On this day, Tepely would not be denied and closed Green out with a 6-2 third set.
In getting to the semis, Green scored a major upset in defeating Dartmouth's No. 1 player Eric Holzer. Green's 6-1, 7-6 victory, combined with Lee's defeat of Kleigerman, solidified the Crimson's position at the top of the Ivy League. Only Dartmouth and Princeton brought their top players, and both were defeated by players from the middle of the Crimson lineup.
Styperek also gunned his way into the other semifinal of the singles draw. The sophomore got things rolling with a shocking upset of Dartmouth's No. 2 player Gabe Sauerhoff in the opening round.
Sauerhoff jumped out to an early lead, but Styperek proved he was a player to be reckoned with by forcing a first set tiebreaker.
"He hit some big winners in the tiebreaker and won it 7-4," Styperek said. "I think he let his guard down a little, and I kept serving well so he couldn't break me."
The stage was set and Styperek stepped up, taking the second set 6-3. In winning the decisive third set 7-5, the sophomore had to combat not only his opponent, but also strange displays of gamesmanship.
"I guess [beating Sauerhoff] was an upset, but I didn't come out there with any preconceived ideas," Styperek said. "I knew he was from Dartmouth, and Harvard is always better than Dartmouth."
Styperek next dominated Illinois player Nathan Zeder in the quarterfinals. The straight set victory included a 6-0 second set and marked the first time Styperek had defeated his familiar rival.
"He was my doubles partner this summer, and I had never beaten him, "Styperek said. "I wanted to beat him really badly with this being a home match and everything."
The fast courts favored the more mobile Styperek, and the win earned the sophomore a semifinal matchup with another old acquaintance, Alabama's Graydon Oliver.
"He is also a friend of mine from Florida," Styperek said. "I played really well and jumped out to a 5-2 lead. Then I lost six straight games. Why? Who knows? I started rushing because I had never beaten him before."
In the end, the eventual champion Oliver hit his stride and come back to win 7-5, 6-4.
Styperek also showed his stuff in the doubles portion of the draw. The sophomore teamed up with freshman Cillie Swart for the first time and won the consolation draw right off the bat.
An 8-4 final victory over Princeton's team of Kleigerman and Shiv Vasisht closed things out. The Crimson duo had lost their opening-round match to eventual finalists Oliver and Chang of Alabama, 8-2.
"We got pretty destroyed in that first match," Styperek said. "They were a really good team, and we tried to match them shot for shot which didn't work."
The goal of the weekend was to provide experience for the middle of its lineup, but the Crimson got a little more than that. The success of the players created the added bonus of confidence heading into this weekend's ITA Fall Championship in Princeton.
"Those last two matches against Chang and Kleigerman gave me a lot of confidence heading into the weekend," Lee said.
Blake will be sitting the Princeton event out, having already earned national honors at the ITA All-Americans Championships. But for the rest of the squad, it is the last chance to earn national respect before the spring.
"There are no preseason rankings for teams, so this tournament is the last chance to solidify final fall rankings and to get wins towards individual rankings," said Harvard Assistant Coach Peter Mandeau.
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