Thursday, October 02, 2008

From sea to shining sea...Harvard Tennis goes coast to coast...

Harvard Men's Tennis: From Sea to Shining Sea (or Napa to the US Open)

The 121st season of Harvard Men's Tennis is underway as the annual migration of students' return to Harvard Square – swelling the streets to capacity. This time of year means new faces, renewed energy and purpose, as well as lots of blisters and sore arms. Freshman, just ripped from their mother's side, are now on their own, navigating and negotiating through the first weeks of school with that same confused look, asking the same questions, "Where is Yenching?" or "Ever heard of Vanserg?"

Our season began auspiciously on Sunday, September 7th – on the finals of the US Open – as we kicked off our season with a one-day tournament with players from Brown as well as top area pros (like our alums Ashwin Kumar and Dan Nguyen) and good local juniors. It was a clear barometer to measure our team fitness and see what kind of fighting shape (and weight) they came back to Cambridge in this fall. Captain Chris Clayton actually spent the summer housed across the street from us at the Business School dorms as he worked away on his business project: Group Speak (That is my one plug – Chris did win the entrepreneurial award at Harvard last year and put the $15,000 prize to good use). He also attended the early morning football summer conditioning workouts. Read his blog of a tennis player showing up the Crimson on the gridiron by clicking on this link…

I will also have Will Guzick write about his summer in Korea and the scandal at the Korean Amateur
Nationl Tournament (Think Chinese gymnastics but bigger).

Over the course of the next few blogs we will be introducing the three freshmen: Davis "Cup" Mangham from Seattle, WA, Liinus Hietaniemi from Finland (one of only 2 Finnish students at Harvard) and Alistair "Ali" Felton from the UK. They are bright and likeable lads and have already contributed to making HMT better.

Our first trip of the year was to the Napa Valley Tennis Classic in St. Helena, CA hosted by Cal-Berkeley which brought together Georgia (defending National champs), Illinois (top 5), Cal and Harvard for a weekend long individual tournament. It was truly an amazing experience and an embarrassment of riches. The event began on Thursday evening with a dinner with sponsors and host families on the Croquet Lawn adorned with beautiful Japanese lanterns at the fabulous Meadowood Club which has been the host for this event since its inception eight years ago. (Just to get a sense of the beauty of this club/resort check out the website How did we get there you may ask? Actually, Peter Wright, the Cal coach and good friend of Coach Fish, scratched us on the schedule several years back when we were supposed to play them on spring break so that they could go to a tournament in Hawaii. Peter promised Dave he would make it up to him – and he did – big time. Throughout the weekend the tournament organized delectable catered lunches and evening dinners. We had the good fortune of a tour and dinner at the Merryvale Winery (check them out….) with the owners Rene and Laurence along with their GM Ed Roudebush who showed us the wine making process from vine to bottle with a rapt audience of players! It was harvesting season and many of the players had a chance to pick the grapes right off the vines! Not only was the whole valley picturesque with the verdant hills accented with swatches of vineyards, but the centerpiece of the trip was our housing, as players were paired with area tennis supporters who welcomed us into their homes. I would to especially thank Sherilyn and Rick Martin, Helaine and Ron Katz, Helen and John Hendrick, David and Bobbie Clark as well as Lou and Karen Gilpin. A truer example of hospitality could not be found anywhere and they showed our team what it is like to take care of strangers. The Clarks hosted us on Saturday and Sunday for a BBQ poolside dinner and fun at their beautiful home overlooking the valley into Calistoga. Ulysses, in Tennyson's poem by that same name, reflects back on his nine year journey home to Ithaca and all the adventures, cultures, and people that he met on along the way and observes, "I am a part of all that I have met." And surely those families have become part of Harvard tennis.

Off the court, the boys were great ambassadors for Harvard and HMT. On the court they fought like a band of brothers, showing everyone that this team has real character and spunk. Most notably, Chris Clayton defeated Georgia's number one player Nate Schnugg 6-4, 6-4. Combined with his win on Friday against the Cal-Berkeley's Bo Katsarov in straights, he was vying for the prestigious title of player of the tournament on the final day. Chris fell to Illinois freshman sensation Dennis Nevolo in two tie-break sets. In doubles action, the Crimson took three doubles matches from their Cal opponents and showed that we have perhaps the strongest doubles pairs in a few years. At the top of the line-up veteran, Sasha Ermakov paired with Aba Omodele-Lucien, Michael Hayes played alongside our new freshman and doubles standout David Mangham and Captain Chris combined with Alexei Chijoff-Evans to make a formidable pairing who won both their matches against Georgia and Berkeley. The Harvard #1 team of Ermakov and Omodele-Lucien lost a heartbreaker to Georgia's top team in a tiebreaker after failing to hold a break of serve lead late in the match. Other notable performances of the weekend include Alexei Chijoff-Evans who found another gear in his game and asserted himself as a true national force. The match of the tournament was Mike Hayes' win against Berkeley. Down a set and a break with his opponent serving for the match, Mike locked into his returns against the net charging Berkeley foe like Maverick on a Mig and finally got his returns to the edges of the court to win 11-9 in a thrilling breaker before asserting himself for a 6-1 win in the third. Once the tournament was over the team gathered for meeting at Oakland Airport before boarding a Jet Blue red eye back to campus and the first day of classes! This was a great chance to test our mettle against the best in the country and set the bar high for our daily practices: "to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield" in the words of Ulysses.

The second weekend of our odyssey brought us to Flushing Meadows at the site of the US Open for the Northeast Collegiate Invitational – the replacement for the ECAC Team Tournament in the fall now that the National Indoors is chosen by a regional tournament system in the winter. This tournament is sure to become a showcase event for college tennis and will attract the best teams from around the country. Harvard brought a record 10 players to a six-flight singles event and three ddoubles tiers in a compass draw that allowed for lots of tennis. All the Ivies were in attendance along with other usual ECAC teams like St. Johns, Manhattan, Rutgers, Army… The tournament was bolstered by Alabama and Mississippi which brought their top players to NYC. All in all, Harvard posted two flight champions (Alexei Chijoff-Evans in the second flight and Alistair Felton in #5) as well as 4 semifinalists including Clayton in the top draw (falling to a tough Jonas Berg of U Miss), Junior Mike Hayes and Freshman David Mangham both got the semifinals in third flight while Captain Mike Kalfayan had two strong wins before falling to Binghampton's Asanan Jain.

It has been a fun start to the season as players are now settling into the routine of classes and regular practices before traveling to Notre Dame and Regionals at Yale in October.

Looking forward to seeing you all on our travels or at home in Cambridge – please continue to stop by and meet with the team to see for yourself what a great young men we have wearing the Crimson uniform and carrying on the Harvard Tennis Tradition.

Andrew Rueb '95

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