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Powerful forehands and pinpoint backhands; delicate slices and explosive volleys; dropped doubles points and three-set comebacks; the glory of winning and the pain of defeat.
It was just another season for the Harvard men’s tennis team.
Eighty-two days, twelve wins and nine losses on from the beginning of the dual meet season, No. 64 Harvard (13-9, 5-2 Ivy) traveled to Hanover to bring the curtain down on a dramatic regular campaign, against a Dartmouth (4-17, 0-7 Ivy) side rooted to the bottom of the Ivy League.
Faced with a Big Green opponent yet to register a win in the Ancient Eight this year, the Crimson kept its composure to record its fourth triumph in succession with a 6-1 win.
“Everybody played very solid tennis,” head coach David Fish ’72 said. “We were in a league where seven teams were neck and neck, and Dartmouth was just a little down from that [level] … but we’re still glad to get through with a win.”
Despite conceding the doubles point—a recurring theme of its season—Harvard swept the singles en route to a comfortable victory.
While enough to clinch a joint-second place finish in the Ivy League behind champions-elect Columbia, it was scant consolation for the defeated holders, left to rue what might have been.
“It’s a disappointment, because everyone hoped we could [win the Ivy League],” Fish said. “But you’ve got to be good and lucky in this league—it was really tight.”
With all three seniors included in the doubles lineup for their final game for the Crimson—and Dartmouth buoyed by its shock doubles point against Brown in its previous match—the stage was set for a competitive encounter.
At No. 1, Harvard got off to an ideal start through the senior-sophomore combination of co-captain Chris Clayton and Alexei Chijoff-Evans, with the duo opening with an 8-2 win.
Crimson enthusiasm would falter as the Big Green staged a comeback.
At No. 2, Dartmouth’s Curtis Roby and Ari Gayer broke senior Sasha Ermakov and sophomore Aba Omodele-Lucien—the No. 83 pairing in the nation—in an 8-6 win to level the scores.
The point was sealed by the Big Green’s No.3 partnership; Dan Freeman and Justin Tzou beat junior Michael Hayes and senior co-captain Michael Kalfayan—struggling with an Achilles injury—in a closely-fought result (8-6).
“With all the things that happened this year, losing the doubles point was probably the least surprising thing that could have happened,” Clayton said. “We’ve been losing so many doubles points I can’t even remember.”
Entering the singles, Harvard needed once again to overhaul a point deficit.
At No. 1, the team was handed an unexpected equalizer in unfortunate circumstances; in Clayton’s first set tiebreaker, the co-captain took a one-point lead before opponent Freeman retired through a hand injury.
Wins further down the courts from Crimson players at opposite ends of their varsity careers brought the match point within touching reach.
At No. 6, freshman Alistair Felton wrapped up a successful first season with his 20th singles win (6-2, 6-2), while No. 3 Ermakov ended his collegiate experience on a winning note, hitting some trademark return winners in a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Roby.
“They’re a terrific class,” said Fish, referring to his senior singles stalwarts. “With Chris having a shoulder problem and Sasha having had a fracture in his foot, they still played the whole Ivy season and played great.”
Harvard’s all-important fourth point—that match clinching point often elusive in a rollercoaster season—was delivered at the No. 2 position. Chijoff-Evans ground out a 6-4, 6-4 win over the Big Green’s Stephen Greif to ensure an undefeated Ivy League singles season, a 13th consecutive singles win in Ivy play, and the Crimson’s 18th successive win over its Hanover-based rival.
In the remaining fixtures, No. 4 Omodele-Lucien required a second set tiebreaker to finally defeat Tzou (6-2, 7-6 (4)), before No.5 Mangham concluded his campaign with a third set tiebreaker win (6-2, 1-6, (10-6))—ensuring a last hurrah for Harvard.
“It was a slow start,” Clayton said. “[But] it’s nice to see everyone, in our last team match, winning all their singles matches and playing well.”
Despite the loss of the Ivy League championship, Fish sought the positives of a breathtaking campaign for players and fans alike.
“[Clayton] and [Chijoff-Evans] won the regionals, won the regional doubles, we won the ECACs, and Chris will probably go to the Nationals [ECAC Singles],” Fish said. “I think we did essentially everything but the Ivies.”
—Staff writer Allen J. Padua can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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