The chance to play for the Harvard men’s tennis team and to take home an Ivy League title seems like a once in a lifetime opportunity. Luckily, senior Alexei Chijoff-Evans is receiving a second chance to live out one of his dreams.
Going into his senior year, it seemed things were only looking up for Chijoff-Evans. He had amassed a 19-12 singles record, which tied him for the most singles wins on the team; he had consistently played at the No. 1 singles slot, and he was going to be captain the squad. Then he made the announcement in September, after months of thinking over the decision, that he would be leaving the team.
For anyone who follows the Crimson tennis squad, it was a shocking decision. But it was not one that Chijoff-Evans had made lightly. It was the first time in his life that he was taking an extended break from playing tennis, but ultimately, he did so to benefit the team.
“I had played tennis for so long ... I did have a lot on my plate and I really sat down and thought about it for a long time,” Chijoff-Evans said. “Tennis, for the first time in my life, was not one of my personal top priorities, so I knew that being on the team in this particular mindset would have been detrimental to myself and detrimental to the team.”
But even more surprising than his announcement to leave the tennis team was his decision to return in the middle of the fall semester. Like professional players who have retired and come back to the sport, such as Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, Chijoff-Evans just couldn’t stay away from the game he had grown up playing. He just needed the time to step away from the court and clear his mind.
“In years prior, I was completely committed and wanted nothing but an Ivy League Championship,” Chijoff-Evans said. “[Now], I’m fully committed [again] and I’m really happy that I took this break. It’s kind of like a new beginning—a new start—for me on the team.”
When athletes look back at their careers, sometimes there’s one thing that fuels their comeback or one accolade that is missing from their careers. For Andre Agassi, it was the career grand slam. For Justine Henin, it was Wimbledon. For Chijoff-Evans, it’s another Ivy League Championship.
“I really want to get another Ivy League title,” Chijoff-Evans said. “We’ve had great teams my sophomore and junior years, but we’ve just fallen ever so slightly short of getting an Ivy League Championship.”
But, as Chijoff-Evans has found out, the passion and drive alone doesn’t mean the road will be easy. Chijoff-Evans started practicing with the team again in November, but had to wait until January to test if he was match-tough due to a break in the Crimson’s schedule.
In the five matches he has played, Chijoff-Evans has gone 2-3. He started out with a rough 7-6 (5), 6-3 loss to his Northwestern opponent, but won his latest match, 2-6, 6-3, 10-8. A significant challenge for the senior has been regaining his aggression on the court, but the longer he plays, especially in three-set marathon matches, the closer Chijoff-Evans should get to his peak level.
“My junior spring, I didn’t have to think much on the court,” Chijoff-Evans said. “Things just happened because I was so well-grooved, but now I’m not in this comfort zone…. I’m thinking a lot about what to do and how to hit the ball…. I think it’s just a matter of playing time. The more playing time I get, the better I’ll become.”
Luckily for Chijoff-Evans, he has a team around him that has welcomed him back onto the squad and supported his return. The bonds he had formed with his teammates were the reason he mentioned for returning to the sport.
“It’s great to have him back after a long layoff, and it’s good to see him … competing,” captain Aba Omodele-Lucien said. “We hope he has a good recovery from his break and we still expect great things from our teammate.”
Chijoff-Evans hopes the experience he has gained throughout his time at Harvard, accompanied by the support from his teammates, can propel the senior toward the goal of winning another Ivy League Championship.
In his second opportunity, Chijoff-Evans is looking to end his Crimson tennis career on the right note.
—Staff writer Steven T. A. Roach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.