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To contain the winningest team in Harvard women’s tennis history, it took the winningest program in NCAA tennis history.
Two-defending national champion Stanford (23-1) brought the Crimson season to an abrupt halt in the NCAA Round of 16 in Gainesville, Fla., yesterday. The No. 17 Crimson (19-4) had hoped for more against the tournament’s No. 1 seed, but the defeat did not take away from the team’s accomplishments this spring.
The third round was as deep as Harvard had ever advanced in NCAAs.
“It sucks that we had to end on a losing note, but we had the greatest season ever. We set a billion Harvard records,” said captain Sanja Bajin. “I’m obviously not happy that we lost, but we gave it our best shot.”
Sophomore Courtney Bergman was among the three Harvard players whose singles matches were left unfinished. She felt even though the final score was 4-0, the Crimson still could have won.
“Everyone who was on the court, I think we would have won our matches,” Bergman said. “All of our matches were close. It’s not like we were blown off the court at all.”
The other two unfinished matches featured sophomore Susanna Lingman at No. 2 and freshman Melissa Anderson at No. 5. Bergman, Lingman and Anderson all lost their first sets but Harvard coach Gordon Graham liked what he saw in the second sets.
“Boy, would I have liked to see those matches played out,” Graham said. “All three of those kids turned their matches around.”
Harvard’s end was hastened by the absence of sophomore Alexis Martire, whose tonsillitis prevented her from making the trip. Freshman Lyly Cao Minh was left to make her team singles debut at No. 6, a trial-by-fire unlike any Graham could recall.
Minh’s 6-1, 6-0 singles defeat gave Stanford its second team point. The No. 3 doubles pairing of Minh and Bajin fell 8-0. The two had several chances to pull out games but could never quite finish.
Martire’s absence at No. 3 singles and No. 2 doubles also forced freshman Eva Wang, Bajin and Anderson into tougher spots in the lineup.
“It definitely would have helped to have Alexis,” Bergman said. “If we had [her], it would have been a different match. Even at that, we definitely could have beaten them today.”
The Harvard missed opportunities began at doubles. At No. 1, Bergman and Lingman took on the nation’s top-ranked pair of Lauren Barnikow and Erin Burdette. The pairs were on serve for most of the match, but the Crimson duo got broken late and could not break back.
At No. 2 doubles, Wang and Anderson led 6-4 but fell behind 7-6 right as play was halted when Stanford clinched the doubles point.
In singles, Bergman at No. 1 and Bajin at No. 4 each went up 2-0 to start their matches, but those leads were short-lived. Harvard lost all six first sets.
The matchup between Bajin and Stanford’s Alice Barnes at No. 4 pitted two players who were undefeated for the regular season. Barnes, ranked No. 11 nationally, took a close first set by 6-4 margin and rolled to a 6-0 win in the second set.
“The second set she really stopped missing and picked her game up,” Bajin said. “She was probably a little bit nervous and made some errors and then she just cut them down in the second set.”
Bergman, facing the nation’s No. 4 player Amber Liu, fell 6-2 in the first set despite being up a break early. Graham said Bergman attacked aggressively at first, but backed off, and Liu grabbed on.
In the second set, however, Bergman gained control and took a 4-3, 30-15 lead. But it proved no matter to the team result, because Wang’s 6-2, 6-3 defeat at No. 3 singles clinched the victory for Stanford.
“I felt like balls were flying on me and I was spraying balls and stuff, but then I settled down and was in control in the second set,” Bergman said. “I definitely felt like I would have won that set.”
Bergman is the one player whose season does not end today. She will stay in Florida to play in the 64-player NCAA individual draw, which begins on Monday.
Bajin’s loss left her with two defeats to close out her career, but she remains the only Harvard player to post an undefeated spring regular season, as far as anyone knows.
“I’m happy for her because she worked hard to rehab, not just for her sake, but to lead the team and set an example for everyone,” Graham said. “Her leadership is a big part of why we were successful this season.”
Graham said that this might be the best Harvard team ever given its record win total and its unprecedented success at the national level. With no juniors and only two seniors—Bajin and Liz Gass—on the roster, next year’s team has even greater potential.
“We’ll be more settled next time for [NCAAs], even more prepared,” Bergman said. “This gave us a taste of it. It’ll make us train harder and want it a little more.”
—Staff writer David R. De Remer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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