Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Men's Tennis makes Crimson milestone, downing South Florida outdoors for first time...

We showed how far we've come since our 4-3 loss to Manhattan in early October, winning 7-0.  While all the wins were good, Notable wins: Chris Clayton, upending #1 Jan Borta, who had beaten Chris convincingly both times they had played before; Denenberg, solidifying his play at #2; and Kumar ended his drought with a convincing straight set win at #4.  Kumar and Valkin teamed up at #1 when Sasha Ermakov, about to make his debut after ankle surgery in the fall, came down with pneumonia!

Our 4-3 loss to Purdue, the third close loss of the young season, should have been written about by Charles Dickens.  It felt indeed like the best of times and the worst of times. Although we came up one inch short on an open court volley match point, it provided the highest drama one could hope for in a college match.

Meanwhile, as I write on the plane coming back from Florida, I can see how our first-ever victory over South Florida emerged from the ashes of the Purdue match.

The first outdoor match for any Northern team always presents a challenge.  Today's match was no exception.  South Florida, with five new players in their line-up, looked stronger than ever.  They lost no time in racing out to 6-0 lead at #2 doubles (Burke and Nguyen).  Despite frequent early chances at #2, the points never fell our way, and USF cruised to a win.  We hung very close at #3, as Denenberg teamed up with freshman Mike Hayes, but clutch volleys by USF stymied our best efforts. Doubles point to USF 1-0.  Pride was more than salvaged at #1, however. USF dominated early, as they had at #2 an #3.  Down 6-1, "Magic Man" Kumar and Valkin clawed their way back to take the match in a tiebreak, played as 7-7.  Despite the loss of the doubles point, Kumar and Valkin's performance noticeably buoyed our spirits.

Gareth Doran, playing his first match since spraining his ankle in our loss to Manhattan in the fall, took his first set at #6, as did Kumar and Nguyen at #4 and #3 respectively.  Kumar and Nguyen both cruised to convincing wins in straight sets to put us up 2-1.  But things did not exactly look rosy, as Valkin, Denenberg, and Clayton (#5, #2, and #1) all dropped their first sets.  It looked even less rosy as Doran dropped his second set 6-0. 

But Phoenix was starting to rise! (Google: Phoenix rising from the ashes…) Clayton found a new gear, and swarmed back like a hive of angry bees to grab the second set.  His opponent, a started to look a little more human.  Valkin, broken at 4-4 in the second set, and facing extinction, broke back to even the match, and took the set in a tiebreak.  Doran got over his first-match nerves, and took his third set 6-3 to give us a 3-1 lead. Dare we say it after Purdue?  Things were looking up…

Even beautiful 80 degree weather and a cloudless sky can seem less friendly after several hours in the sun.  It was hard on us, but Denenberg hung on to win his second set, too.  Several USF'ers started to crack. Valkin's opponent faltered noticeably and Valkin took 7 of the last 8 games to clinch the win.  We finally had our first win over South Florida.

Clayton meanwhile was firing on all cylinders as Denenberg fought gamely in his second set.  Clayton kept the drama going, as he twice served to consolidate a break in the third, only to watch his opponent slug winners to break back.  But Clayton can get knocked down and still spring back to life.  He broke for a third straight time, and this time served out his game at love.  5-1 Harvard.

Denenberg, too, finally captured his second set.  Once a match is concluded, any remaining matches that have not begun the third set are decided by match tiebreakers (10 point, win by two).  Scott was on empty, and once the team match was decided, the adrenalin tank seemed to drain quickly.  USF hung on for its only singles win of the day.

Needless to say, we have a happy bunch tonight!

Reality check on Wednesday against #3 Virginia at the Murr Center!  Join us!

David Fish
Head Coach of Men's Tennis
Harvard University Dept. of Athletics
Murr Center
65 N. Harvard St.
Boston, MA 02163-1012
Phone: 617.495.2695/Fax: 617.495.2700
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