Athlete of the Week: Courtney Bergman '05

Given the physical ailments sophomore Courtney Bergman suffered in recent weeks, it was hard to see the most wildly successful Ivy weekend of her career on the horizon.

She dropped a match to Yale’s top player on April 8 and saw her spring singles record fall to 6-6. She was not moving well, she was uncomfortable, she was struggling with supposed stress fractures in her shins and she did not know if she was going to get any healthier.

Then just last week, she came down with flu-like symptoms, and she spent most of last Monday at University Health Services in lieu of the tennis court.

Nevertheless, Bergman was full of confidence, not excuses, entering the Harvard women’s tennis team’s biggest weekend of the season against Princeton and two-time defending Ivy champion Penn. There was no better antidote to her pains than the goal she had been working for all season coming within reach.

“I feel like I’m playing well this week,” Bergman insisted last Thursday.

But what about the shin injuries?

“I’m getting used to playing with them, so I don’t think they’re going to be a factor at all,” she said.

And the mystery illness?

“I’m sick now, and Monday I was at UHS all day,” she said. “But it’s not going to be a problem.”

Bergman proved true to her word when she triumphed 4-6, 6-2, 1-0 (13-11) over 2000 Ivy Player of the Year Kavitha Krishnamirthy of Princeton on Friday. Three times earlier this spring she had let herself down in third-set tiebreakers, but no more.

That was only a warmup to the main event on Saturday, when in came Penn, winner of 22 straight Ivy matches. Leading the way was national No. 20 Alice Pirsu—the 2002 Ivy Player the Year with a 13-0 career record in Ivy duels and WTA Tour experience.

When Bergman and Pirsu took the court on singles, Penn had already put the pressure on by winning the doubles point. Harvard dropped three of six first sets at singles as well, and the Quakers seemed in control of the match. University President Lawrence H. Summers was one of the 100-plus in attendance looking concerned.

But the tide turned when Bergman closed out a dominant 6-4, 6-1 victory over Pirsu. The expedient demise of its formerly Ivy-unbeaten player at the hands of the supposedly struggling Bergman was a shock from which Penn never fully recovered.

The Quakers had already been uncomfortable in front of the Harvard crowd—one Penn player even told The Daily Pennsylvanian that Harvard’s fan support was like nothing they had ever seen before. One by one, the Quakers slipped up in their singles matches, the most extreme case being Shelah Chao blowing a 7-6, 5-0 lead against Harvard’s Eva Wang. It wasn’t long before all six Harvard players had won.

Bergman surprised herself with how quickly her match went, and Coach Gordon Graham could not recall her ever being the first to win her match at the usually hotly contested No. 1 singles spot.

“This weekend for some reason I started playing some amazing tennis,” Bergman said. “I didn’t expect it to be like that at all.”

Bergman defeated Pirsu, her highest-ranked victim this season, by pounding the ball deep and attacking the net aggressively and successfully.

“She’s had a rough spring. She turned it around yesterday and started really playing well, and just kept it going today,” Graham said.

Now that the Ivy season is over, Harvard will need Bergman to keep on going as Harvard aims to advance through its NCAA regional in three weeks. Don’t expect Bergman to be easily stopped with an even greater goal coming into her sight.