Monday, February 18, 2008

Lotsa good stuff: Crimson and H. Coop Athletes of the Week Clayton and Kumar...etc.

There's so much good to report. We've let the frosh off the hook (albeit temporarily!), so you've got me this time. Yesterday, Andrew Rueb and I were struck by the muses at the same time, and wrote articles simultaneously. I have cherry-picked a few things from mine regarding two weekends ago, but largely left his for you to enjoy, since his muse was obviously more inspired than mine…

Special Honors for Clayton and Kumar as Crimson Athlete of the Week and Harvard Coop Athlete of the Week, respectively.

Harvard Men's Tennis was honored when Co-Captain "Colonel" Chris Clayton was named the Harvard Crimson Athlete of the Week. A great story is attached by Crimson writer Jonathan Steinman. Chris garnered these laurels for his outstanding wins at #1 over Alex Cojanu of The College of William and Mary (which earned us a 4-3 decision) and his win over Purdue's #1, who had taken Chris's measure a year ago in a 3-4 loss to Purdue. These matches took place on the first and second days on our opening dual-match weekend in February. The W&M victory was the finest victory the team has had in the last three years, while the Purdue win was sweet on it's own, as the last two years have also left us on the short end of 3-4 decisions. Kumar's 4-win weekend down at UVA a week later against Kentucky and Virginia in singles and doubles earned him the honor of being named the Harvard Coop Athlete of the Week! Congratulations to both Ashwin and Chris for earning these honors.

Last Weekend at UVA:
Last weekend, we had an exciting back and forth contest with the University of Kentucky Wildcats. While we lost 4-3 by the narrowest of margins, we came away knowing that we had gone toe-to-toe with an SEC team that frequently has inhabits the top 10. We played our finest doubles yet, capturing all three matches and the doubles point, which gave us a shot at an upset. While Clayton and Kumar were playing their finest tennis of the season thus far at #1 and #2 that would later earn two more points for Harvard, Dan Nguyen,and froeshmen Aba Omodele-Lucien and Will Guzick were having titanic struggles at #'s 4-6. Aba played some of his finest tennis to date as well, and only lost by the narrowest of margins, 8-6 in the third set tiebreak. Guzick lost 6-4 in the third, and Co-Captain Dan Nguyen saved five match points in the second set to almost force a third set. A 4-3 win for KY. Kentucky knew they were lucky to escape with a win. I would expect Kentucky to earn a spot in the top 30 before too long.

The next day against Virginia, the #1 team in the country, went to the heavily-favored Cavaliers. UVA was not about to take us lightly after watching us take Kentucky to the wire the day before (UVA had won the previous night 4-3!). While we were not in their league from top to bottom, we had two outstanding performances again at #1 and #2. Clayton tested #12 ranked Treat Huey severely, losing in a second set tiebreak, while Kumar came away with the only win of the day, a three-setter over Michael Shabaz.

Saturday's Dance Marathon - "Whatever doesn't kill you strengthens you (Nietsche) OR What in the heck were the coaches thinking about when they scheduled two matches in the same day?

By Andrew Rueb:

The Crimson Netters were back on the warpath in Saturday's
doubleheader against Binghampton and Boston College at home in the Murr Center. These two teams are much improved from years past and, with our two captains sidelined with injury or illness, it was going to be a long battle.

Last weekend, after the boys from Cambridge were served a dose of humble pie by Kentucky (4-3) and Virginia (6-1), it was obvious that another step forward in intensity was in order. During the week Coach Fish called a team meeting to inspire the troops to reach for the next rung. He has been preaching all year about adding energy to practice and matches in the hopes of reaching the boiling point - when a transformational change of state occurs - and water turns to steam. In front of the assembled team on Thursday, Fish pulled out all the stops and showed a video of the New Zealand Rugby All-Blacks "haka" pre-match ancestral Maori dance - setting the bar for team unity and fire. (You can view the video at or read all about at from Wikipedia Even the skeptics were impressed.

To bring it back to tennis, we watched a video highlight reel sent from Wayne Bryan of the Bob and Mike's greatest season (2007) "Chasing the Cup." After watching the Bryan Bros. bounce around the court for an hour with seemingly limitless energy, a commitment to the "Harvard trot" (like the Bryan Bros, players jog to the bench on change-overs) was the team's response. The "Trot" was unveiled at the Murr on Saturday. Watching our guys "whoop" it up with positive energy and joy on Saturday was Coach Fish's and my highlight of the season.

At noon, Harvard took on the Binghamton Bearcats, lead by Adam Cohen, former Minnesota assistant coach. With such a long day ahead of them and such a deep squad, we decided to try to get as many players involved as possible. In what might be a record, 10 players contributed in the win (including all four freshman!). A newly-minted doubles tandem of Kumar and Omodele-Lucien won at the top spot. Clayton (before retiring to bed for the day) and Hayes gave the Crimson a clean sweep of the doubles at #2. Freshman Tim Wu (past blogger from the Columbia weekend) and sophomore Cameron Parker played the first duel match of their careers at #3 doubles and won with great flair. The scrappy and fast duo dart back and forth the court like Purple Martins catching flies.

In singles top spot, Kumar continued to roll by downing Moshe Levy 6-1, 6-4. Sasha Ermakov moved up to #2 and defeated a pesky Swede - Sven Vloedgraven, 6-4, 6-2. In exciting action, freshman Aba Omodele-Lucien lit up the courts with an electrifying display of speed and rapid-fire groundies, winning 6-3, 6-3 at the four spot while his classmate Alexi Chijoff-Evans returned to the starting line-up after an illness and pulled out a gutsy win at the third position. Michael Kalfayan and Will Guzick, at #'s 5 and 6, respectively fell in heated action against the Bearcats but showed lots of fight and heart.

The Binghampton matched ended just after 4pm. The crew had to regroup and refuel before the 6pm start against the cross-town Eagles. Though tired, the evening performance was to be the team's best energy of the young season. With captains Dan Nguyen (back) and Chris Clayton out of action (flu), others needed to step into the breach and did. To counter BC's strong doubles line-up, the coaches split up their top duo of Kumar and Ermakov to divide and conquer. Kumar paired with the Aussie Mike Hayes at #1 (they had played together last year at the top spot for a few dual matches) while Ermakov played with Omodele-Lucien at #2. The pairings worked. 8-4, 8-3 respectively. Parker and Wu fell in a tiebreaker at third, but only after breaking back at the 11th hour to force a tiebreak!

The singles provided some memorable performances. Kumar and
Omodele-Lucien garnered the day's Iron Men Awards by winning four matches in a day. Kumar set the tenor of the match at the top spot with relentless pressure and his great shot-making talents. Omodele-Lucien was right behind him, firing winners from everywhere to notch a 6-2, 6-2 victory. Ermakov continued his winning ways at #2 while Will "Ice Pick" Guzick showed why he is such a tough "out" by grinding down his opponent at #5. Guzick's style has been termed "rope-a-dope" and his opponents usually walk off the court with rubbery legs after being yanked corner to corner with his angle forehands point after point.

Equally encouraging was Alexei "Big Bird" Chijoff-Evans' return to form. Alexei, in the #4 slot, was down 6-3, 5-2. With nothing left to lose, he finally abandoned his "grinding strategy" (insert a picture of a not-so-swift-of-foot big man trying to win with looping groundies hit from eight by feet behind the baseline) to adopt what I will call his "laser light show" (a nod to Red Sox rookie of the year, Dustin Pedroia, who told his teammates before the World Series to wear goggles because he was "going to put on a laser light show," Alexei showed the game that made him so formidable in the fall. The mild-mannered and relaxed frosh turned into the newly-created superhero "LEXOR," as we watched him stand two feet inside the baseline and literally scream flat lasers to the corners off both wings till he won the second set breaker and continued into the super-tiebreaker for the third. He must have hit 20 winners in that span using his great leverage, flat strokes and improving net game to play downhill tennis. At six, Kalfayan suffered a disheartening loss in the match tiebreaker for the third, but showed how very close he is to reaching the next level.

The Crimson will be back in action at Murr on against East Tennessee State on March 5th at 6pm and Michigan on Friday, March 8th at 3:00pm.

We hope to see many of you there.


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