Sunday, April 08, 2007

Harvard Men's Tennis take important first step...7-0 over Cornell

As the saying goes, "It was much closer than the score indicates…

Opening day for Harvard in its tough Ivy League schedule went well for the Crimson, as the Crimson made a strong showing at every position to earn a satisfying win over Cornell 7-0.  The fans on Friday were terrific, and no doubt helped us get over the first hump in April.

We kept the same line-up as we had at Santa Clara, but this time it produced a better result. Cornell's seniors and #1 Raff and Brunner have been a dangerous doubles team since their freshmen year, so our #1 had plenty of reason to respect their ability.  Kumar and Ermakov started hot, going up a break right away.  Despite returning the favor on Ermakov's first turn serving, Kumar and Ermakov were sharp.  After surviving a thrilling service game at 3-4 in which they saved a number of break points, it was all Harvard for the next four games 8-4.

At #3 doubles, it was again Harvard that took the early lead.  Hayes and Nguyen got the break at 3-2 and kept on rolling from to win 8-5. 
Doubles point to Harvard.

Valkin and Denenberg made the doubles victory complete, coming back from down an early break to force a tiebreak at 7-7 (played at 7-7 instead of 8-8 once the doubles point is decided).

In the singles, Cornell made it clear why they had beaten us last year.  With the exception of one match, Cornell jumped out to early leads in the other five.  But fans who have been watching the Crimson mature throughout the season saw backs stiffen, and any early advantage was erased at most spots.  Clayton faced a big hitting threat in Brunner, who seemed able to hit winners at will.  Brunner captured the first set convincingly.

Cornell's #3 player, Dan Brause, was unable to play after the doubles due to an ailing back.  It was a blow to Cornell's chances, since Brause is a Cornell success story.  Ranked only 300 in the juniors before college, Dan has improved every year, this season making it to the quarter-finals of the Northeast Regional Championships.

Nguyen gave his opponent no quarter at #3, winning 6-3, 6-3 with a solid performance in all aspects.  He is not fun to play if you have forgotten your running shoes.  Kumar, too, showed his toughness at #2.  Raff, who had beaten Ashwin last year in three sets, came out hot, breaking him twice before most of the spectators had even returned from their bathroom break. It was not Kumar's poor play - Raff was on fire, ripping winner after winner.  But Ashwin stayed poised, and regained one of the breaks right away to stay within one break.  Raff continued to play well, but sensing that Kumar was not panicking, he became more tentative.  Biding his time, Kumar faced double set point on Raff's serve at 5-4.  With a spine of iron, he broke Raff, and forced a tiebreak, which he won.  After that, it was all Kumar.  Raff's spirit was broken, and Kumar took the second set 6-0.

Ermakov at #6 came through with another straight set victory, 7-5, 6-4, following on the heels of his win several days before against Boston University. This was the clinching match. 
4-0 Harvard. Our two senior co-captains, Denenberg and Valkin, who have been largely living on peanut butter and matzah during Passover (concerned parents: please allow me poetic license for the sake of the story…), took a bit longer.  Denenberg at #4 took his match against a tenacious counter-puncher 7-5, 7-5. At #5, Valkin found himself against a hot young player, Jonathan Fife.  5-0 Harvard.  Lanky, fast, with good ball control, Fife took the first set from Valkin.  Gideon bounced back quickly, however, taking the second set 6-3, and then the match tiebreak.  6-0 Harvard.

The day's drama was not yet over, as Clayton continued to battle at #1.  Brunner had been dictating play for much of the match.  Clayton's usual strong backcourt play was tenacious, but not pressuring Brunner, who would counter punch competently and then pick his shot to rip for a winner.  But Clayton's defense is like the thick and thorny hedges that grew in Caesar's Gaul, wearing out even the best of soldiers who try to penetrate them.  Even winning points against Clayton can wear a player out, leaving him with little reserves in the tank.  With Brunner serving for set and match and match at 5-4, he faltered briefly, making a couple of unforced errors.  It was all Clayton needed to break.  With the outcome of the match already determined, Brunner let down.  After service holds by each player, the tiebreak was all Clayton.  The match tiebreak in lieu of the third set also went Clayton's way convincingly. 

Solid performance for the Crimson, and a great way to open up the Ivy season.  Thanks again for all the fan support at the Murr Center!

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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