Sunday, April 13, 2008

Ivy Opening Weekend at Cornell and Columbia

Please note: the many compliments that I have received for these blogs are undeserved. More careful reading will reveal that the author is my assistant coach, Andrew Rueb, whose imagery fars eclipses mine. Once we catch out breath on this weekend, we'll regale you with results against Penn and Princeton.

Ivy Opening Weekend at Cornell and Columbia

The men's tennis team journeyed through Ithaca and the Big Apple and avoided the twin dangers of Scylla and Charybdis that sank our season in the same waters two years ago. After the long bus ride from Cambridge and a late night hit on the fast courts of Cornell, we were ready for combat. Our team energy and support was in overdrive and helped us overcome the pesky Big Red of Cornell. We won the doubles point capturing all three matches. The top pairing of Kumar/Ermakov, now ranked in the 30's nationally and All-American contenders, anchor our doubles line-up and act as our Achilles and Agamemnon leading the team into battle. Freshman Alexei Chijoff-Evans and Michael Hayes, a newly minted team at Pepperdine, have come together as a strong returning duo with punch at the net. At third doubles, captain Dan Nguyen's experience combined with the youthful enthusiasm and speed of frosh Aba Omodele-Lucien has made them a feared team at the back of the line-up.

After the doubles against Cornell, our veterans showed the frosh what Ivy-League tennis is all about. Ashwin Kumar held down the top spot by downing Kyle Doppelt 6-3, 6-3. Captain Chris Clayton also turned in a solid performance with a 6-4, 6-3 win at second singles. Captain Dan also contributed by earning a 6-4, 6-1 win en route to clinching the match for the Crimson. But the day would not turn out to be a celebration of Harvard's overwhelming force. A pesky Cornell would win the three remaining matches at the third, fifth and sixth position - showing our freshman what Ivy League tennis is all about. With a 4-3 victory in hand, we traveled to NYC and a match against last year's Ivy Champs the Columbia Lions. On the long van ride, after their schoolwork, we watched a documentary on the bus about the history of big wave surfing called Riding Giants. The metaphor of riding the big wave was an apt one for the match to follow. The day would twist and turn, as our guys would wipe out and then get right back up on their boards still eager to go after the next set.

There was lots of noise inside Columbia's bubble as a bus service transported students from the main part of campus to the courts. The raucous crowd made the day even more competitive and fun. Harvard had its own crowd on hand that included an alumni reunion that brought players from all eras back to watch the Crimson and lend their karmic and vocal support. Such luminaries as Alex Seaver, Steve Dittman, Gary Reiner, Bob Horne, Marshall Burroughs, Michael Zimmerman, Peter Lattman, Michael Daum, Adam Meister, Jose Manuel Hernandez-Ore, Jon Chu, Jason Beren, Jordan Bohnen, and Caleb Gardner were on hand to lend their support. Dinny Adams also was there in spirit as he was preparing to host the team and the alums at his house after the match in Riverdale. Just to have the alums out in such force gave the day a historic feel.

Everything about the match was competitive and would come down the to the wire. In doubles, our top tandem won convincingly 8-3 in under 25 minutes. At number two doubles, Hayes and Chijoff-Evans fell to a tough Columbia pairing of Borta and Wong 8-5. It all came down to the third spot to decide the doubles point and fittingly it went into a tiebreaker. Despite the efforts of Aba and Dan to be aggressive - they poached and crossed beautifully - they went down to a very tough foe and Harvard trailed 1-0.

The singles would be an epic struggle. At number two, senior Ashwin Kumar rose the occasion by playing his brand of attacking tennis, serving and volleying a smaller Mark Clemente off the court 6-3, 6-3. Harvard 1 - Columbia 1. Then Dan Nguyen gave Harvard the lead 2-1 with a veteran performance and a 6-3, 6-1 win at the forth position against the Lions' Jared Drucker. Columbia would strike back with a stellar performance at the top position with John Wong's win over Chris Clayton 7-6, 6-2. Match tied. But then it was the freshmen's turn to turn the tables redeem themselves from their performance only one day before at Cornell. Aba Omodele-Lucien would ride his big forehand to victory 7-6, 6-1 against Justin Chow. With Harvard up 3-2 and Sasha Ermakov down a set and a break at number three singles, it was all up to Alexei Chijoff-Evans to ride down the face of a tsunami. Somehow Alexei wasn't aware that the match was on his racket (freshman naiveté), as he played like a rock star in the third set, dropping aces and groundstroke winners until the team stormed his court in celebration. Only minutes later, Sasha would fall to his opponent making the final score 4-3 Harvard.

After the match, the team assembled with recent alums at Dinny Adams house to be spoiled by the master of ceremonies and bon vivant in Riverdale. What a night. The van ride back to Cambridge felt a lot shorter than two years ago. But like the 12 Labors of Heracles, we must face Penn and Princeton at home this weekend and continue to battle in the tightly contested Ivy-League.

Coach Rueb

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