"Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row!" So went the humorous quote from the late Vitas Gerulaitis after he finally beat Jimmy Connors after 16 straight losses.
Well, we might use a variation of Vitas' line, as the Harvard Men's Team defeated the Stanford Cardinal yesterday for the first time (at least in modern tennis history) 5-2!
The Stanford team, truth be told, is down this year. After the loss of a couple of their top players in mid-season, they are not playing at the same level as the NCAA Championships teams of the '80s and '90s under the legendary coaching pair of Dick Gould and his assistant coach, John Whitlinger. After Dick's retirement several years ago, "Whit" took over. But as I well know, it's not easy recruiting at colleges with high admissions standards. At the same time, many other teams have gotten better.
But a win is a win, and our players earned the victory. The Stanford players and coaches couldn't have been more gracious.
The doubles told the early tale of the way the match would go. Matt Bruch, their #1 player, out for a few weeks due to injury, returned to the doubles line-up at #2. They had a bit too much firepower for Dan Nguyen and Kieran Burke, winning 8-4. At #3, Valkin and Denenberg had too much match experience for freshmen Paul Morrissey and Kevin Kaiser, winning by the same margin. #1 became the rubber match. Ermakov and Kumar, down by a break twice, came back twice to even the score. The barrage of groundstrokes by the Cardinal was withering, with great attention focused on Ermakov, who refused to wilt at crunch time. Harvard pulled even at 5-5, and broke to go up 7-6, with Kumar left to serve. Lots of suspense, as Stanford crept to within a point at 40-30, but Kumar ended the suspense quickly with a big serve. 1-0 Harvard.
With the exception of Clayton's match against Richard Wire (England), which was a poor style matchup for Clayton, Harvard was largely in control. Kumar quickly made short work of his first set, as did Ermakov and Valkin. Denenberg took a little longer, but captured his first one as well. Nguyen, on center court of Taube Stadium, battled toe to toe with Blake Mueller. He served for the first set, but was broken. In the tiebreak, he held another few set points, and held off at least one by Mueller, before taking the first set. Five first sets gave us a commanding advantage we would not give up.
Kumar finished first, using his experience and shot-making ability to confuse Kaiser at #3. Ermakov was next at #6. Valkin clinched the winning point at #5. Nguyen lighted up the court in his last four games to take our fifth point. Easy and painless, something we are not used to. Denenberg was up a set, but lost the second, and lost a match tiebreak once the match was concluded.
Tomorrow, if I get any sleep, I'll let you all know what happened at Fresno State tonight.
Head Coach of Men's Tennis
Harvard University Dept. of Athletics
65 N. Harvard St.
Boston, MA 02163-1012
Phone: 617.495.2695/Fax: 617.495.2700
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