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Saturday’s two first-round matches of the NCAA men’s tennis tournament—held at Harvard’s Beren Tennis Center—were the same and different all at once. While No. 19 Tulane battled for a deceptively difficult 4-0 victory over No. 30 Notre Dame, the No. 21 Crimson squad absolutely demolished Quinnipiac 4-0 in less than two hours time.
“[Quinnipiac is] a younger team,” said Crimson sophomore Brandon Chiu said after the victory, “and they don’t really get to play against top-ranked teams, so this is, I guess, a new experience for them.”
And it showed.
The Bobcats (12-5, 8-0 Northeast) started three freshmen and two sophomores in the six-man singles lineup as well as four freshman and a sophomore in the three doubles pairs. And Quinnipiac lost—or was on pace to lose—every single match.
The doubles competition lasted less than 40 minutes, and for the first several minutes, not one of the three Harvard pairs dropped even a point.
And while the Bobcats eventually took a point here, a point there—and even a game here, a game there—the Crimson (18-6, 7-0 Ivy) never relinquished control of the match.
With aggressive net-play and sound teamwork, the senior duo of Mark Riddell and co-captain David Lingman were first to finish with an 8-1 drubbing in the second doubles position.
The third pairing of senior Chris Chiou and junior Martin Wetzel was next to win, posting an 8-2 victory and clinching the doubles point.
Play was then suspended in the top doubles match, which Chiu and junior Jonathan Chu led 5-2.
There was little drama in the air at the start of singles competition, and the Harvard team seemed to take few false steps. In fact, the Crimson won all six first sets—six sets in which Quinnipiac had only managed to garner a collective six games.
Wetzel was first off the courts. The animated junior wasted little time winning the fifth singles match in decisive 6-0, 6-1 fashion, upping his win streak to five matches with another strong showing after an extended injury layoff.
Chu was next to finish, capping off a 6-1, 6-1 victory with a thundering serve.
Harvard now held a 3-0 dual match advantage, and the only thing remotely suspenseful remaining was the question of which Crimson player would take home the fourth and decisive match.
On court four, co-captain Cliff Nguyen held a 5-0 second set advantage, while on court six, freshman Jack Li was up 5-1.
The two raced all the way to the finish, but it was Nguyen who sealed a 6-2, 6-0 win and a Harvard first-round victory. Li’s match was suspended at 6-1, 5-1.
Also unfinished were the matches of Lingman—suspended at 6-0, 2-3—and Riddell—suspended at 6-2, 3-1.
And so the Crimson defeated Quinnipiac easily, just as many expected the team to do. But with Harvard looking forward to the next day’s showdown with Tulane, a 4-0 drubbing might not have been ideal.
“I think Tulane and Notre Dame probably had a better experience today in [terms of] preparing for tomorrow’s match, because they fought a much closer contest,” explained Crimson associate coach Peter Mandeau.
The Notre Dame-Tulane match was certainly much closer, though the bout also ended with a 4-0 score.
The Green Wave (19-4, 6-0 Conference USA) took the doubles point as well as the first two singles matches, but the Fighting Irish (15-9, 3-2 Big East) refused to go quietly. The team pushed two singles matches to a third set and led both, while another was on pace for a third set as well.
Had Notre Dame held on in all three, the overall dual match score would have been knotted at 3-3.
However, the squad never got the chance, as Tulane’s Jacobo Hernandez held on—after a brief display of nerves—for a 6-4, 6-4 win and an overall Green Wave victory.
But would the hard-earned 4-0 victory give Tulane an edge?
“Sometimes it’s difficult to play an easier or less tough opponent and then go to play a really tough opponent the next day,” Mandeau admitted after the Quinnipiac match, “so it will be interesting how we come out tomorrow.”
But there wasn’t anything the Crimson could—or should—have done differently against the Bobcats. Harvard looked watertight, the strokes quick and clean, the energy directed and the potential there.
“We were just playing how we wanted to play,” Chiu explained. “Just [reinforcing] good habits, doing the right things.”
The victory advanced Harvard into the second round yesterday. The Crimson topped Tulane 4-2 to advance to the Sweet 16.
—Staff writer Rebecca A. Seesel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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