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The Harvard men's tennis team had little trouble making the transition onto the outdoor courts this weekend for the 1999 Blue-Gray National Collegiate Tennis Classic in Montgomery, Ala.
On Thursday, in the round of sixteen, the Crimson downed Boise State 4-1 in match play. But in the quarterfinals the next day, it suffered a 1-4 loss to Virginia.
Harvard (11-3) bounced back and defeated Northwestern 4-2 on Saturday. The Crimson finished tied for fifth place overall.
In all three matches, Harvard found its strength in singles play. The Crimson faced a point deficit after the doubles matches and needed to win at least four singles matches to clinch the overall victory.
In the Boise State match, the doubles matches began with junior John Doran and freshman Cillie Swart losing 8-1 at the No. 3 spot. The No. 2 pair of co-captain Mike Passarella and sophomore Scott Clark responded with a 9-7 win. However, the No. 1 duo of sophomore James Blake and co-captain Kunj Majmudar came up short, 8-6. With the two losses, Harvard lost the doubles point and was down 0-1 going into the singles.
"Giving up the doubles point has been an issue for us, and it showed in the Boise match. We have the talent and the ability to beat these teams, but the pairs just need more time to practice together," Blake said.
Now needing to win four singles matches, the Harvard players came out on fire, winning the first sets in all six of the matches. Clark clocked in the first win at the No. 6 position, winning handily, 6-0, 6-3, over Gabe Coran. Doran came through with a 6-4, 6-1 victory against Ryan Thompson at No. 3, and Blake routed Leif Meinike in the No. 1 match, 6-3, 6-3.
Boise rallied in the late matches and took both Passarella and Majmudar into third sets.
The Crimson turned its hopes to junior Joe Green in the No. 5 slot, and he answered the call, clinching the match, 6-4, 7-6 (3).
In the quarterfinals against Virginia, Harvard again lost two doubles matches and surrendering the point.
Again forced to rely on singles victories, Harvard was not able to rally in the early matches. Passarella lost to the Cavallier's Yoo 6-3, 6-3 in the No. 4 match, and then Green was edged in a grueling second set tie-breaker 6-2, 7-6 (3).
Down 3-0 in total match points, Harvard began to come back. In the No. 3 match, Doran posted a dramatic win against John Winter, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-1. At this point, Clark had lost his second set in a tie-breaker and Majmudar was fighting for his second set.
The climactic match of the day was the No. 1 contest between Crimson ace Blake and his old junior tennis rival, Brian Vahally. Blake, a returning All-American and the current No. 1-ranked collegiate singles player, was the favorite to win.
Blake and Vahally split the first two sets. In the third set, Blake broke serve early, but he could not capitalize on two match points.
"By that point, my legs were in knots and I was just physically unable to close out some of the big points," Blake said.
Blake lost in an upset, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.
With Blake's loss, Virginia clinched the match, and the budding comeback died. The loss was only Harvard's third of the season.
On Saturday, the Crimson had the chance to vindicate itself after the previous day's loss, and it came through with a 4-2 victory.
In the doubles matches, Blake and Majmudar, who had struggled the past two days, found their rhythm and pulled out a resounding 8-4 victory.
"This time, we played them aggressively and didn't let them get us on our heels," Blake said. "We rediscovered how we were playing together in the beginning of the season."
The heroics of the No. 1 pair were for naught as Passarella and Clark lost 8-6 at the No. 2 position and Doran and Swart, down two breaks early, folded 8-6 in the No. 3 spot.
For the third time in three days, it was left to the singles players to win the match. Doran continued his string of solid match play and turned in a 6-2, 6-4 win at No. 3. Majmudar scored next at No. 2, defeating Bengtsson 6-2, 6-4. Sophomore Andrew Styperek, filling the No. 6 slot, lost 6-4, 7-6(2) to Northwestern's Sahara, evening the team match score to 2-2.
As the singles came down to the wire, No. 4 Green sealed up his match against Nguyen 7-6 (9), 6-4, bringing the Crimson to within one match of victory.
Again, the burden fell on Blake at the No. 1 spot. Finding himself down a match point to Doug Bohaboy in the second set, Blake mounted a comeback to hold serve and went on to tie the match, 1-1.
"Bohaboy was playing a great match, but when he had match point, I got a good first serve past him, and that ruined his confidence. From there, I felt the momentum shift my way, and I was able to outplay him in the third set," said Blake, who prevailed 6-2 in the third.
For the second time of the weekend, a Blake win clinched a match win.
"Overall, the tournament was a successful experience for the guys--we need improve our doubles play, especially if we want to compete with the top twenty teams at the NCAAs, but this weekend, we won two matches and definitely adjusted to the outdoor play," Blake said.
Harvard will be out on the courts again next Friday in California at the U.C.-Santa Barbara Gaucho Classic.
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