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After a successful fall season, the Harvard men’s tennis team fell twice in its spring opener against top-flight competition at the ITA Kickoff Weekend tournament this weekend.
The ITA season-opening festivities included four-team tournaments at 15 campus sites around the country. The Crimson’s draw included host No. 13 Mississippi State, which knocked Harvard out of last year’s NCAA Tournament in the second round, No. 21 Memphis, and No. 18 South Carolina.
The No. 26 Crimson fell to Mississippi State on Saturday, 4-3. The loss prevented Harvard from reaching the championship match for a chance to advance to the ITA National Team Indoor Championship in February. Then, in Sunday’s consolation match against the Gamecocks, Harvard fell behind quickly and lost, 4-0.
But the team is satisfied with the way it played, especially given the stage of the season, according to Harvard coach Dave Fish.
“This was really our first set of matches of the spring season,” Fish said. “There are things we’ll know later in the season that we don’t know at this point. We played two really fine matches this weekend.”
South Carolina 4, Harvard 0
After Memphis upset South Carolina in the teams’ opening-round matchup, the Gamecocks and Crimson met in the consolation round. But fourth-seeded Harvard could not keep up with second-seeded South Carolina, and the Crimson left the weekend winless.
In doubles, the No. 17 doubles tandem of senior Casey MacMaster and junior Denis Nguyen trounced No. 24 Chip Cox and Kyle Koch, 6-2, but the other two doubles matches did not go Harvard’s way. No. 48 sophomore Nicky Hu and freshman Brian Yeung fell, 6-3, on court two, and freshman Sebastian Beltrame and sophomore Kelvin Lam lost in a tiebreak, 6-5(3), to give the Gamecocks the doubles point.
In singles, the Crimson could not turn the match around. Freshman Andrew Ball lost on the sixth court, 6-5(2), 6-1, and Beltrame came up short at the third position, 6-3, 6-5(4). After junior Alex Steinroeder fell on court five in three sets, South Carolina had clinched a quick 4-0 victory, even though Harvard led in the remaining matches.
“We came back strong today after a slow start,” Fish said. “That’s the sad thing about this clinch format. It quite possibly would’ve been a 4-3 match, and instead it looks like we didn’t do anything.”
Mississippi State 4, Harvard 3
In last season’s NCAA Tournament, the Crimson came up well short against the Bulldogs, falling 4-1. On Saturday, Harvard played a much closer match against top-seeded Mississippi State, which needed a third-set comeback to win.
The day started off well for the Crimson, with MacMaster and Nguyen continuing their winning ways in a 6-4 triumph. Hu and Yeung pulled out a 6-2 victory to give Harvard the doubles point.
But the Bulldogs turned it around from there, taking two straight-set victories to take a 2-1 lead. Hu fell on the sixth court, 6-1, 6-5(4), and junior Shaun Chaudhuri lost to No. 39 Mississippi State senior Malte Strop, 6-3, 6-2, on court two.
After Beltrame lost a three-setter, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, the Crimson trailed, 3-1. But Harvard quickly stormed back as Ball won in three sets at the fifth position and No. 44 Nguyen beat No. 63 Florian Lakat, 6-5(5), 6-2.
It all came down to the fourth court, where the match was in the third set by the time the rest had finished. Steinroeder led Bulldog senior Zach White, 3-2 and 40-15, in the deciding set, but White rallied to take the game. He wouldn’t drop another, and came away with a 6-4, 5-6(1), 6-3 win.
It was a disappointing end to the day, but things are looking up for the Crimson, which is looking to claim its third straight Ivy League title this season.
In its singles lineup, the team is already starting three freshmen, who will look to be serious contributors this season.
“It’s very unusual to have three freshmen start this early, especially on a team that is already so solid,” Fish said. “But these guys are good, and they’re definitely going to help us in singles and doubles.”
Facing top competition early will help the team better prepare for the spring season, according to Steinroeder.
“We are disappointed in the results from the weekend, but proud of the way we competed and fought against two very strong teams in both matches,” he said. “We will use it as a learning tool and use the lessons from the weekend to get better for the rest of the season.”
—Staff writer Justin C. Wong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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