Saturday, March 31, 2007

Harvard drops close 4-3 decision to Fresno State Bulldogs under the lights…2:30pm match against Santa Clara tomorrow.

Harvard drops close 4-3 decision to Fresno State Bulldogs under the lights…2:30pm match against Santa Clara tomorrow.

Coming after a very satisfying win over Stanford, we traveled three hours to Fresno, CA to meet FSU.  We knew they would be very tough, as they had dispatched Cornell 5-2 two weeks ago and Brown 4-0  Both of these teams hope to be contending for this year's Ivy title.

Confident but not overconfident, the Crimson took the court with a slightly adjusted line-up,  Valkin and Denenberg moved to #2 and Dan Nguyen paired with freshman Mike Hayes at #3.  This pair had won the Dartmouth Invitational last November.

Hayes and Nguyen captured the first match at #3 with solid play that made FSU earn every point.  No surprises.  A tough showing for their first time together since November.  At #1, Kumar and Ermakov faced a  pair of fire-bombing servers from the Czech Republic, who started out very hot.  As in their doubles match at Stanford, they fell behind early, but hung tough, waiting for their chance.  Their patience was finally rewarded when they broke back to  tie the score at 6-6.  Four holds later the match went to a tiebreak, which Kumar and Ermakov took handily.
1-0 Crimson.  In the remaining doubles match, at #2, FSU's team was ranked in the top 50 nationally.  Both FSU players were superb shot-makers who often put us in trouble. They twice forced a break, only to be broken back. Valkin and Denenberg bent but didn't break, finally turning the tables by breaking FSU for the match.  A doubles sweep for the Crimson.  As one of the seniors wisely emphasized, it's no time for elation -  there's no extra credit for a sweep..

FSU, defending their home turf, came out of the blocks quickly at #1, #2 and #4 to grab first sets.  We captured first sets at #3, #5, and #6.  Valkin was the first off for Harvard, winning easily at #5.  2-0 Crimson.  Ermakov too grabbed his first set.  He couldn't quite capitalize on a small lead in the second set and went to a third, too, which took us out of the driver's seat.  Kumar captured his first after holding off a set point in the tiebreak with a big-time backhand passing shot, keeping hopes for three singles wins alive.  Clayton did his part, too, after losing the first set quickly.   He forced a third set with relentless retrieving.  Unfortunately, Nguyen was overmatched at #2 by the last member of the triumvirate from the Czech Republic. A tenuous 2-1 for Harvard.  At #4, Denenberg was leg-weary and pitted against one of FSU's strongest players for their position.  After an opening burst that gave him a brief lead in the first set, he fell in straight sets.  Advantage erased, 2-2. 

Only Clayton, Ermakov, and Kumar were left.  Clayton, whose opponent had won the Nor. Cal. ITA Regional Championships in November, fell behind early in the third set, and couldn't regain the advantage he often found in the second set.  FSU's Macek became increasingly confident.  Match to FSU. 
2-3 FSU.  Two left, and we had to win them both.  As with life, timing is everything.  Ermakov, in his first tough match of a young season, couldn't quite get over the "first close match" nerves to solve the puzzle his opponent presented him with.  He fell to give FSU its last point.  2-4 FSU. Kumar, finishing with yet another superb effort, captured our third point shortly thereafter.  3-4 FSU final.

All in all, a great match.  Our doubles showed real resilience.  Kumar showed off some of his best tennis this year, as did Valkin. Playing only his third singles match this year, Ermakov probably needed a "nervy" match like that.  Perhaps it will help him further on down the road, maybe even in April. 

Tomorrow, we will have a chance to even our match record with the Santa Clara Broncos, who lead the series 1-0. 
Match time is :2:30 at Santa Clara. 

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