In its Ivy League openers, the No. 36 Harvard men’s tennis team split a hotly contested pair of matches this weekend, taking down No. 55 Cornell, 4-3, on Saturday, but falling short against No. 28 Columbia on Sunday.
Seven of the eight Ivy squads are ranked nationally, and the No. 36 Crimson (15-6, 1-1 Ivy) started its season quickly with the Big Red and Lions (10-5, 3-0), last season’s defending champions and presumptive favorites.
“[The Cornell match] was a great match for us,” co-captain Alex Steinroeder said. “We were a little rusty in spots, so [we] got that out of the system. Even though we lost today, we played a much better match than against Cornell, so are happy about that.”
COLUMBIA 5, HARVARD 2
In front of a raucous crowd at the Murr Center, Harvard kicked off its conference slate with one of its biggest matches of the year. Last season, Columbia snatched the Ivy crown from Harvard after the Crimson took home the title in 2012 and 2013.
Although Columbia entered the weekend at just 8-5, the record was perhaps misleading, with the Lions having faced eight top-25 teams on the year. After Sunday’s victory, Columbia has three Ivy wins on the season.
In doubles, Harvard started out fast, as sophomore Brian Yeung and co-captain Denis Nguyen seized control of a hotly contested match, putting away an overhead to close out the match on the first court, 6-2. But sophomore Sebastian Beltrame and junior Nicky Hu went down, 6-3, on court two, leaving the match up to Steinroeder and junior Kelvin Lam at third doubles. Lam helped save a few match points, but Columbia eventually closed out the 6-3 victory to take the 1-0 lead.
“[Losing the doubles point] changes everything,” Harvard coach Dave Fish ’72 said. “Against a team that good, it’s hard to come back from. That gave them enormous confidence going into singles.”
The Lions came out firing in singles, as they took each of the six first sets. The Crimson fought back in the second sets, as Steinroeder and Hu won on courts five and two, respectively, and Beltrame saved match point to take the second set, 7-5, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Eventually, Harvard pushed the Lions to five third sets. But Nguyen fell, 7-5, 6-3, to Columbia’s Winston Lin, ranked 21st nationally, to put Harvard down, 2-0. When Hu went down, 6-2, in the third set, the Crimson was on the brink. Steinroeder’s 6-4 loss in the third provided the final margin of victory.
“It was really cool to see everyone fight back after losing the first sets,” Steinroeder said. “It would’ve been easy to go down after that, and it was really good to force five third sets.... Everyone’s happy with the way they competed today.”
HARVARD 4, CORNELL 3
In Saturday’s match, the Crimson’s freshmen helped put the team over the top to deliver a victory in its Ivy season opener.
The Big Red, which opened its Ancient Eight season with a 6-1 loss to the Lions last weekend, put up a strong fight, but Harvard was able to slip by.