Friday, March 30, 2007
Harvard defeats Pacific 6-1; Stanford tomorrow at noon
Go figure. Come to California for fun in the sun, and end up playing indoors! It was “shades of Palmer Dixon”, our former three-court Varsity facility, which made for some very long dual matches!
But it was worth the wait. The UOP squad was pesky. We were slated to play at the beautiful Blackhawk Country Club in Danville, CA. After an hour warm-up, as we were about the send the players out to the courts, the skies opened. Radar showed a long swath of rain coming in from the Pacific.
So we hopped into our vans and took off for the hour-and-a-half ride to Stockton, home of UOP and a modest indoor club facility that could offer us three courts. We had a great home crowd: Chris Clayton’s grandparents from South Dakota, Gideon Valkin’s parents from South Africa, and the entire Harvard women’s team, who drove for an hour towards Danville, and then turned around and headed back to Stockton where they had just practiced! That’s loyalty.
The courts were quick and the lights were not strong. But everyone was excited to be finally playing, especially sophomore Sasha Ermakov. His comeback after November ankle surgery had been thwarted before the Virginia match when he came down with pneumonia.
We played the doubles first.
Our line-up was a little different: Kumar was finally going to play with Ermakov at #1 doubles (they had qualified for the NCAA’s last year) and Denenberg and Valkin were back together at #3; in singles, Kumar moved to #3 on the strength of his last three wins at #4, while Ermakov moved in at #6.
The doubles point went to us convincingly, with wins at #1 and #3. Kumar and Erkamov looked strong, as did Valkin and Denenberg. UOP’s strongest duo for their position was #2, and they gave Nguyen and Burke fits, breaking serve right away, and then again three more times, using dipping balls that generated chances to move forward. Burke and Nguyen are dangerous serve breakers, too. Despite a tough serving day, they stayed within one break all the way to the end, but could not quite get untracked to even it up. Crimson, 1-0.
In singles, Clayton started off hitting big and going for broke. Despite getting down an early break, he keep swinging until his balls found their range, and broke UOP’s #1 when he served for the first set to even the score at 5-5. A hold and a break later, Clayton had the first set. The second set went more quickly for Clayton. He chose his times to attack and defended well when on the run. 2-0 Crimson.
Dan Nguyen at #2 broke early but got broken back before breaking to capture the first set. He found his rhythm in the second set, and really started to rocket some forehands to get the third point for Harvard. 3-0 Crimson.
At #3 Kumar found himself in a shot-makers battle, as he faced UOP’s other top player, who had just returned the day before from an injury. Kumar’s racquet work is just plain fun to watch. In his last few matches, he has been getting to net more frequently, and putting greater pressure on his opponents. When he’s doing his volleying magic, win or lose, it’s just fun to watch. After forcing an early break, he served big to capture the opening set. But even he could see that his opponent was firming up with every point. Ashwin narrowly missed breaking more than a few times, which seemed to fluster him a bit. Despite holding convincingly each time, he found himself in a tiebreak. His UOP opponent was now feeling more confident, and ripped off a couple of remarkable passing shots despite Kumar’s well-set-up forays into net. Tiebreak to UOP. Third set necessary.
Denenberg played and Irish “lad” who covered the court beautifully and counter punched well. But Scott quickly found his range, and countered his opponent’s annoying defense with strong, basic plays that gave him the advantage at net. Straight set win for Denenberg to clinch the match, although he had to take the second set in a tiebreak. 4-0 Crimson.
Meanwhile, with only three courts, Valkin and Erkamov had had to wait. Valkin had begun his match on the first court after Clayton, and was soon ripping his forehand confidently. He controlled most of the points. He wasn’t quite on target on all of them, which was the only reason the first set was not over sooner. A late break gave Valkin the set and clearly the momentum. With more kick and run to his forehand, his UOP opponent was hard pressed to keep his errors down. Valkin raced to a 5-0 lead. A sloppy serving games on Gideon’s side led to a break and brought his UOP opponent to 5-3, but Gideon served it out decisively to end any thoughts in his opponent’s mind of a comeback. Harvard 5-0.
Meanwhile, to lend some suspense to an otherwise uncontested match, Kumar provided the entertainment. Down 0-40 on his first service game of the third set, he served out five big points to hold. He was broken for the first time at 1-2. Despite his own strong service games, his UOP opponent gave him no openings game after game until he served for the match at 5-4. Kumar played some stunning tennis to hold off 3-4 match points, but in the end, the UOP player’s execution under pressure secured the win. All in all, however, it was great that Kumar was able to play someone with that much point and skill, as his last matches have been relatively one-sided. He’ll be better for this loss.
The cherry on the sundae, however, was still to be added. Erkamov disappointed no one in his return to the line-up, winning 6-3, 6-0. It was nice to see him back on court.
Stanford tomorrow at 12 noon!