Monday, February 26, 2007

Harvard Men lose 4-3 to NU Wildcats – but it’s a Heart-Builder, not a Heart-Breaker!

Harvard Men lose 4-3 to Wildcats – but it’s a Heart-Builder, not a Heart-Breaker!

We knocked on the door harder than ever last night, and almost broke it down. Result, while we lost an ever-so-close match to the Northwestern Wildcats, we still came away very encouraged. Our goal has been to improve with every match, and we’ve done exactly that.

The doubles looked like it might go our way for a while. Clayton and Nguyen at #3 scored a convincing win, showing much better coordination as a tandem than in their previous two matches. Clayton even wowed the crowd with a once in a lifetime put-away overhead off an overhead!

At #2, we got down two breaks before launching a no-holds-barred attack that brought us back to 6-6. Northwestern, eight matches into its season, recovered quickly. They broke us back, and managed to serve out the match after a back and forth game. It would come down to #1 as the rubber match for the doubles point…

Kumar and Hayes had looked brilliant from the beginning against NU’s #27 ranked tandem, with Kumar directing traffic almost at will, with freshman Hayes playing the set-up man for him. Harvard captured an early break, but lost it. Twice Hayes served his way out of his service game with stunning first serves and great cut-offs by Kumar, once from 0-40, and a second time from 15-40. At 6-6, Harvard broke again to go ahead. Everything looked to be going our way, with Kumar serving at 7-6. But NU hung tough, getting a chance to hit away on too many second serves. They broke back to earn a chance in the tiebreaker.

Once even, NU lost no time, roaring to 4-0 lead. Kumar and Hayes weren’t done yet. Helped by a bit of indecision on NU’s, they rallied to tie it at 4-4. Hope still alive. But NU again showed its mettle under pressure, coming up with an ace to take a 5-4 lead, which they extended for a 7-4 tiebreak win. Point to NU 1-0.

After the ten-minute break, it was easy to see our boys were not wasting any time feeling sorry for themselves. We started out strongly at #2-#5. At #2, Kumar captured the first set 7-6 from Tempke, who had beaten him in straight sets a year ago. Dan Nguyen, up to #4 from #5, tied the match score at 1-1 with our first singles win. Denenberg climbed on his NU opponent, and never let up, also winning in straight sets to make it 2-1. Kalfayan at #6 failed to establish his rhythm against a very solid baseliner, which brought the match back to 2-2. Valkin at #4, holding off cramps (from nerves and enthusiastic cheering more than conditioning) throughout the third set, suddenly hit “the Zone.” Paradoxically more relaxed, he began to hit the heck out of his serve, serving and volleying on several key points, and going for broke on his forehand. Match to Valkin, 7-5 in the third. 3-2 Harvard.

Down on courts #1 and #2, the drama continued. Kumar hung tough until 4-4 in the second set, but was broken and lost the set. Tempke grew emboldened as he sensed a chance to grab the break, and broke Kumar early in the third. He never relinquished that lead. 3-3.

Back on court #1, after his heroics of last weekend, Clayton seemed a little off at the beginning, pressing too hard and not quite mentally ready for the superb retrievals he saw from his opponent. He dropped the first set 6-2. He faced an uphill battle from the start of the second, serving at 1-3, 15-40. But he clawed his way back to deuce, and then hung tough game after game, finally capturing the second set.

One set left to decide it all. Clayton is one of the fastest players we’re ever had on the court, but NU’s Willy Lock was equally fast and defensively very canny. At 1-1 in the third, Clayton held a 30-love lead, but quickly found his edge erased on two reflex snatches by Lock that landed for framed winners off Clayton’s apparent winners. “Shank you very much,” as the saying goes… momentarily off balance, Clayton dropped his serve. Despite constantly threatening to break back, Lock played superbly to capture the third set and the win for NU.

When I said this match was a heart-builder, not a heart-breaker, I meant it! We’re getting better.

Tomorrow a rematch against Manhattan at 2pm. Manhattan handed us a 4-3 loss last fall in the ECAC Championships, so we have plenty of motivation.

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