Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Harvard d. Brown 5-2. Last home match for the Seniors Valkin, Denenberg, Dhaka!

Harvard takes the measure of last year's Ivy Co-Champions Brown 5-2.

Brown, who had defeated the Crimson the last two years, was formidable at the top of their line-up, but weakened somewhat from a couple of injuries, which showed in their depth. Brown's top doubles team was nationally ranked, but this did not seem to bother Kumar and Ermakov, who, while not particularly sharp, played well at the critical points, and came away with an 8-5 win.  The pairing of Valkin with freshman Hayes (due to Denenberg's injury) again yielded a lopsided win for Harvard 8-2 to give Harvard the doubles point.  1-0 Harvard.  Nguyen and Burke captured an early break.  Although they were broken back, they served patiently and forced a tiebreak, played at 7-7 since the point was already decided.  They won it handily 7-3 to give the Crimson a clean sweep of the doubles. Any win against coach Jay Harris's tandems is a good one, as Brown's teams are always well-coached, well-coordinated and intense.

Our strength at the back of our singles line-up proved to make the difference.  All three courts, #4-6, quickly captured first sets, as did Nguyen playing in the #2 slot.  The pressure on Brown was considerable, and their less experienced players on the back of the line-up couldn't find enough answers to get the better of their Crimson counterparts.  Valkin continued with his terrific play, taking out one of Brown's mainstay players of a couple of years ago 6-2, 6-1 at #4.  Ermakov lost his concentration in his second set, but rolled to 6-1 third set win.  Hayes followed suit with a workmanlike 6-4, 6-4 match to give Harvard its fourth point.  I was coaching on the other side of the stadium, so I don't know whether Hayes or Ermakov clinched it, but I'm sure someone will let me know!   
4-0 Harvard.

On the west side of the stadium, #'s 1-3 were having tougher times.  Clayton lost his first set to talented Israeli star Dan Hanegby, who has led the Bruins for the last two years since transferring from SUNY Binghamton.  While Chris and Dan have similar game styles, he was more experienced than Chris in fully utilizing his strokes to open up the court, and it was the best play we have seen from Hanegby in two years.  He used his ferocious crosscourt forehand and down the line backhand to keep Chris off-balance, which allowed him to get to net more frequently.  Chris's defense was - as usual - breathtaking, as was his offense when he used his forehand to attack from inside the baseline. Chris had a chance to break at 15-40, up 3-2 in the second set, but Hanegby tightened his game at the right time to capture a straight set, one-break-a-set victory. Overall, Chris has done a great job to earn the #1 position this year.  He has improved with each match against the different styles, so matches like these are down payments for the future.

Kumar at #3 had dropped his first set to Brown senior Eric Thomas, a talented and formidable never-say-die player.  Fighting through his first set loss, Ashwin displayed some real guts and some superb shot-making to capture the second set.  The third set, played mostly once the match had been decided, lacked suspense, and went to Thomas 6-1.

At #2, Nguyen's first set was a thing of beauty, as he punished Koehli with his groundstrokes, and took advantage of key second serves to attack with his forehand and backhand.  Set 6-1 against an opponent who had made mincemeat of Dan a year ago in the ECAC Championships.  In the second set, he served well, but conservatively, which eventually gave Koehli new confidence that he could win.  Koehli broke Dan to capture the second set 7-5.  With all eyes on the third set, however, it was all Nguyen, with a brief hiccough near the end by Nguyen before he sealed a 5-2 victory for the Crimson.

Match notes:

We've worked hard on our relationship with Brown.  Our rivalry had become very intense over the last number of years.  Matches had become enthusiastic, wild, highly competitive, but also sometimes contentious and edgy.  Jay Harris, Brown's coach and I have worked together to create a more respectful atmosphere between the teams.  Sunday's match was hard-fought, with great sportsmanship on both sides, which is really what it's all about!

It was the last home match for seniors Gideon Valkin, Scott Denenberg, and Shantanu Dhaka.  We will sure miss them as players, but perhaps more so for their leadership skills.  All have been involved leading the team this year.  Their efforts have made a great difference in our team's cohesiveness, worth ethic, conditioning, attitude, and toughness.

Last match of the Ivies today vs. Dartmouth in Hanover at 3pm.

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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