Kumar and Ermakov Reach All-American Quarterfinals:
Tulsa, Oklahoma: Michael Case Tennis Center
Friday, Oct. 6 at 1 pm
After their win on Thursday against the Arkansas Razorbacks, the Harvard duo took to the courts against the 5-8 seed, Dan Buikema and Matt Thibaudeau of Alabama, in the round of sixteen. Ashwin Kumar (Sr) and Sasha Ermakov (Jr) came out ready to play. Kumar plays the deuce court and utilizes his one-handed backhand return to take the ball early and block it at the opponents' feet. Ermakov, from the ad side, stepped up his return game from the previous match and was a force poaching at net. The Harvard tandem really learned the lesson of putting relentless pressure on their opponents service games, forcing them into hitting big serves and making clutch volleys. This lesson is even more valuable in this era of college tennis when the quality of the volleys has noticeably declined. The match was played at the highest level at center court of the stunning facility. Both teams held serve until six all when Harvard finally broke to serve for the match. Kumar, relishing the chance to show off his serve under pressure, proceeded to drop service bombs like Zeus hurtling thunderbolts from the sky. He had three aces in the final game (despite his coaches plea to put a high percentage of first serves and rely on their net game), and the match ended in dramatic fashion at 40-30 with an ace out wide, which moved the team into the quarterfinals with an 8-6 win.
Harvard was now in the quarterfinals of the All-American Tournament for the first time in many years. They now squared off against Jonas Berg and Erling Tveit of Mississippi, a pair of Swedes. Tveit was an NCAA singles semifinalist of few years back and is an imposing figure well over six feet with a cannon lefty serve. Berg was the more traditional doubles player and liked to take over the net. Unlike their early match of the day, this contest would have several big momentum swings. Alabama held and then proceeded to break Kumar to lead 2-0. Then the Crimson showed their improved return consistency by breaking back in the next game, capping off the game with the point of the tournament. Ermakov laced a low return crosscourt from the ad side and Kumar tried to execute a return-partner-poach (know in the lexicon of this year's squad as the "Solar Eclipse" for the imposing shadow the poacher should cast on his opponents) but Kumar left a little too early and got beaten up the line. Ermakov showed his foot speed by tracking the ball down and whipping a forehand low, up the line. Berg responded with an acute cross-court drop shot that was heading for the first row of seats when the lumbering Kumar caught up with it and blocked an up-the-line backhand winner around the net post! With the momentum squarely back in the Crimson side, the stubborn Rebels came out and broke right back, stealing Harvard's energy. Ole Miss continued to pour it on and went up 6-2. With things looking bleak Harvard proceed to show some grit and fought for 7 deuces trying in vain to break the strong Tveit serve and fell down 7-2. Once again, the Crimson duo showed why they made it this far in the tournament by holding and breaking serving to bring it back to 7-4, down only a break of serve. Unfortunately, Harvard was broken once again as the Rebels finished off the match and ended Kumar and Ermakov's run. Overall, the duo reached a new level of doubles. Their positioning on court was impeccable; they made a high percentage of first serves, and fought like hell on return games to make the other team earn their holds. With only a few minor adjustments, this team can reach even greater heights. Their task will be to bring the same grittiness to their day-in and day-out practices and regional competition, absorbing their patterns and plays into the marrow of their bones for the spring season.
A special note of thanks to Ermakovs who drove from Dallas to support the Crimson. They were great fans. Father Yuri kept the team loose for their match with his boundless energy and sense of humor. They took us out for a great dinner and the lads responded on court with their great play.