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Rural Kentucky is the home of bluegrass music, a mix of blues and country. Fittingly, the Harvard men's tennis team was singing the blues after its trip to Lexington, where it lost two straight dual meets.
On Saturday, Harvard took on Indiana. In what was supposed to be its first outdoor match of the year, the Crimson were forced indoors when the rain came.
The doubles team of junior Andrew Styperek and sophomore William Lee won 8-5 in their No. 2 match against George McGill and Milan Rakvika, and while the team of co-captain Joe Green and freshman Dave Lingman dropped their match, the Crimson salvaged the doubles point with a win at No.3. Sophomore Cillie Swart and junior Mike Rich defeated Rahman Smiley and Paul Jacobson, 9-7, to put Harvard up 1-0 going in to the singles.
Lingman lost at No. 2, 6-1, 6-2 to Ian Arons, in what was the Hoosier's easiest match of the day. The Crimson won the first set in four of the remaining five matches. Lee smoked Gabe Montilla, 6-2, but dropped the next two sets.
Green, at No. 1, won the first set in a tiebreaker over Makvika but then got blown off the court, 6-0, 6-1. The next match to finish was at No. 4, where junior Anthony Barker split the first two sets with McGill before getting goose-egged in the final set.
"He was just a better player than me," Green said of Makvika.
At that point the match was won, with Indiana having the 4-1 advantage. Jacobson beat Styperek in three sets, but Swart won 7-6, 3-6, 7-5 over Smiley to get the final count to 5-2.
Missing was Green's co-captain, John Doran, the usual No. 1 player, suffering a knee injury. The injury was the same one that had kept him out all winter and while he had seen some limited action later, he didn't get a chance this weekend.
The next day Harvard took on host Kentucky in an even battle. Harvard (7-4) is ranked No. 24 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), while the Wildcats hold the No. 23 spot. The Crimson got off to a slow start and never recovered, losing 5-2 again.
The Rich/Swart doubles team, successful against Indiana, hit a wall Sunday, losing 8-4 to Reven Stephens and Carlos Drada. Kentucky then got the doubles point by winning the No.1 match, as Johan Hesoun and teammate Gustav Pousette beat Green and Lingman 8-6. Deferring to time concerns, the No. 2 match, featuring Styperek and Lee, was suspended at six games all.
Going to the singles next, Edo Bawono took out Lee 6-2, 6-0 at the No. 3 position. The match was closer than the score indicates, however, because Lee often fought off a lot of deuce and ad points. At No. 4, Pousette easily dismissed Barker in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3.
The most exciting match came at No. 2, where the freshman Lingman took on the hard-hitting Hesoun. A combination of powerful groundstrokes and well-timed return of serves gave Lingman the edge he needed to win 7-5, 6-4.
Green also fought Drada to the finish in the No. 1 match. After winning the first set, 6-3, Green got destroyed in a second-set tiebreak, 7-1, to get the match to a set apiece. Drada used the momentum to beat a frustrated and out-of-step Green 6-3 in the third set.
"He played very well after that tiebreaker," Green said. "A couple of points just went the wrong way."
The match safely in hand, Kentucky won another point at No. 5 but Swart had a successful outing once again at No. 6, beating Jorge Escallon in a wild match, 6-4, 5-7, 1-0 (10-8).
Green offered an explanation of the difference in play between the two days, when Harvard had played better against a much better opponent in Kentucky.
"We're evenly matched in terms of our singles and doubles, but sometimes we meet teams that are just much better at singles than doubles," Green said. "The doubles is only one point, however, so they have a better time of it."
Harvard showed its weakness through its inexperience and the inability to play the whole match. Except for Swart at No. 6, no Crimson player won a three-set match and without Doran, Green is the only senior in the lineup.
"There were a lot of three set matches, and that gives us good preparation," Green said. "We need it to get ready for the Ivy League season about to start up after spring break."
Harvard returns to action this Thursday, when it travels to Montgomery, Al., for the Blue-Gray Classic.
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