Thursday, February 05, 2009

Raising the Bar: Our Weekend in Knoxville at the ITA Kickoff Event

Chris Woodruff, Tennessee's Assoc. Head Coach (left) and Andrew Rueb (right).
Andrew played Chris (who played for the Volunteers) in the 1993 NCAA Tournament in the second round. Chris went on to win the tournament and reach a high of 29 on the ATP tour. Andrew, on the other hand…

(Uber-Editor's note: Andrew wrote the above, not I)

Raising the Bar: Our weekend in Knoxville

The Crimson netters went deep in the heart of Dixie to face off against the 8th ranked Tennessee Volunteers in the first round of the ITA Kick-Off Event in Knoxville, TN. The winner of this four-team bracket (the other match was between Louisville and Drake) would earn one of 16 coveted spots in Chicago at the Midtown Tennis Club in National Team Indoor Championships. This is the first year that the ECAC Fall Championship has not been used to qualify for the ITA Team Indoors.

This was the first duel match for the Crimson after exams. The men had competed in the individual Intercession Invite here in Cambridge the previous weekend and scrimmaged Dartmouth on Tuesday evening to ready them for battle. But nothing could substitute for the "real thing." Tennessee jumped on Harvard early. The doubles was over quickly as the "Vols" made very few errors and were clearly used to a quicker ball. Ermakov and Mangham fell quickly to their top tandem while freshman Alistair Felton and sophomore Will Guzick suffered a similar fate in the third position. Chijoff-Evans and Hayes, at second dubs, were on serve when the match was called. These were new doubles teams since the Crimson were without the services of Aba Omodele-Lucien (recovering from strep) and Chris Clayton (shoulder) for the weekend.

In singles, there were a few bright moments - but not many. Alexei Chijoff-Evans took the first set at #2 but ran out of gas while Michael Hayes had several chances to take the first at #3. It was a clean sweep for the Vols. The team and coaches were not disheartened as the message was loud and clear - we need to be fitter and stronger. As Georgia's coach Manny Diaz said about this year's team, "you have a lot of shot makers" which acknowledges our high talent level but also suggests that we are too quick to go for winners.

In the second day, Harvard faced off against the #50 ranked Drake Bulldogs who had fallen to the Louisville Cardinals the day before. It was a new day and a much sharper performance. Harvard won the doubles point with Sasha Ermakov and frosh Davis Mangham holding down the top spot and Alexei Chijoff-Evans and Michael Hayes clinching the point at second dubs. Ermakov played veteran doubles by taking command of the net and making steady low returns in the ad-court. Mangham served beautifully and kept forcing volley errors with his heavy forehand. Chijoff-Evans and Hayes dominated for most of the match with very consistent and heavy returns and forcing serves. They were clearly the sharpest team on the weekend.

With only four courts in their indoor facility, the match seemed scripted to go late in the day. The Crimson traded singles wins in the top four slots with Chijoff-Evans downing his Bulldog opponent in straight sets and Michael Hayes winning a big tie-breaker for the match to put us ahead 3-2 with the final two matches left to play. Hayes was probably the MVP of the weekend. Michael's play has improved by leaps and bounds from last year and his results in both singles and doubles show it. With equal force off both wings, Michael stands close on the baseline and drives his opponent side to side while hunting for a short ball to finish off his prey. There is a clarity of purpose and consistency of effort that is evident to anyone watching him play. Drake did win at #1 and #4 singles.

Needing one singles win, it was up to the two Brits - freshman Alistair Felton and senior captain Michael Kalfayan - to wrestle one match for the win. It was clear early that Felton had too much power for his lefty opponent from Drake. On the slow, high-bounding indoor courts, Felton could whip high forehand and devastating kick serves out of his opponent's strike zone and finish off the points with either a forehand winner or an easy volley. He won the first set convincing 6-2 and went up two breaks in the second. Kalfayan, on the adjacent court, had been taken to town in the first set but was holding steady in the second, which took some pressure off the young freshman and gave him some breathing room. Felton lost his serve for the first time in the match but was able to break to give Harvard the win.

It was a good result against a ranked national opponent and was also a weekend in which new players had to step up in the absence "Colonel" Clayton. Bloodied in battle, the Crimson took a late flight back to campus on Sunday night and were back to Cambridge to finish shopping period and finalize their class schedule for the spring. Everyone is now eagerly preparing for the ECAC Team Championships that we are hosting over Presidents' Day Weekend. More information to follow shortly!

David Fish
Scott Mead '77 Family Head Coach for Harvard 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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