Thursday, February 18, 2010

ECAC Weekend Wrap-Up - Harvard Tames Lions 5-2

ECAC Weekend Wrap-Up - Harvard Tames Lions 5-2

The top two seeds, Columbia #1 and Harvard #2, met in the finals of the ECAC Tournament on President's Day. It was a much-anticipated match after Harvard's disappointing home loss to the Lions last April. As the two rivals wrestled for early bragging rights in the Ivy-League, it was clear from the start that the Crimson was on top of their game and every player was committed to bringing energy and spirit to their courts.

Harvard rebounded from their first doubles loss (to Princeton) of the season by taking it to the Lions. The play at all three positions was nip-and-tuck throughout, with no team having more than a razor's edge lead. Felton and Nguyen at #2 put on a display of doubles synchronicity that reminded watchers of the Olympic pairs ice dancing. Coach Fish likened their poaching and court coverage to the two blades of a well-oiled pair of scissors, downing their foes 8-6. Next to finish was the energetic and sharp combination of Omodele-Lucien and Schultz. With timely poaching and tenacious positioning, the team bested Columbia's top duo also by a break 8-6. And finally, at #3, Tchan and Chijoff-Evans rebooted from their loss on Sunday to give the Crimson a doubles sweep. Tchan and Chijoff-Evans are the classic doubles breaking threats. With more precision in their net play and timely poaching, the duo is looking forward to a bright future.

After the convincing doubles play, the Crimson had to ante up one more time and finish what they started. Three matches went quickly in straight sets with Columbia taking second and third singles while Harvard won at number six. At second singles, Felton fell to the strong Romanian, Nichifor, who is certainly one of the top players in the region. At number three, Columbia's Schneiderman downed Omodele-Lucien with his all-court game. Fortunately, freshman Andy Nguyen came to the rescue with an impressive performance to win 6-3, 6-1 at #6. Andy, who has earned the nickname, "Tron," for his cyborg-like, methodical dismantling of opponents, was on top of his game, floating across the court with his effortless groundstrokes, waiting to sting his opponents with his flat, laser like approaches and finishing volleys. With the match knotted at 2-2, the tension mounted.

In the turning point of the day, Alexei "Chainsaw" Chijoff-Evans ripped off his best performance of the year earning him the new moniker for his version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (he hails from Dallas) and his patented chainsaw pull celebrations. In a battle of two of the top players in the region, Alexei traded line-drive ground strokes with Jonathan Wong of Columbia for nearly two hours. While Chainsaw won the first set, he was deep in the hole in the second with Wong leading 4-1 and serving at 40-0 with a two-break lead. From that point on, Alexei went into a dervish-like trance and proceeded to reel off five straight games, notching the set and putting Harvard ahead in the overall score 3-2, with two matches still on court. Both freshmen, Tchan at #4 and Schultz at #5, were left to finish off the day.

As Christo Schultz was locked in third set battle, Tchan was serving up 5-2. The crowd spilled over to watch him try to serve out the match and give Harvard the title. With his rugged Columbia opponent chasing everything down, Tchan blew his first match point and served up 40-30 to finish it once and for all. What ensued was hard to believe without seeing. In what can only be described as the best point of the year, Tchan and Deb-Sen of Columbia traded groundstrokes as Tchan twice approached the net with laser like backhands only to be rebuffed by two gallant lobs that forced Tchan to have to restart the point. Finally Deb-Sen, with the advantage, rolled a forehand cross-court at such an acute angle that Tchan was pulled off the court and near the padded fence from where he proceeded to lace a forehand up the line that went around the net-post and landed in the backhand corner for the winner. Josh struggled to make it to the net to shake his opponents hand as he was mobbed by his teammates. 4-2 Harvard.

The attention then turned to the "Count of Monte" Christo Schultz to see if all three freshmen could secure victories in their first battle with the Lions. In a third set that saw no breaks of service, Schultz was holding with his huge lefty serves and effective volleying game that kept his opponent from gaining the offensive. With the score knotted at five-all, Schultz attacked some weak second serves - charging the net and forcing some errant passing shots under great pressure. Finally, with a break lead, Schultz served out the match to give Harvard the extra point 5-2 with a volley quick-hands exchange on match point, to give Schultz a hard-earned win.

It was a great day for team and it reflected the tremendous work they have put into preparing for this season. The boys from Cambridge know that they will have to work even harder to earn a win in the Lion's Den in Harlem on Friday, April 2nd. Stay tuned as Harvard travels to face Purdue and Indiana this weekend.

We would also like to extend our gratitude to the families who housed and pampered our players over the weekend. Many of them where Yale families who took mercy upon the crimson clad visitors and showed real class by not poisoning their breakfasts! I would like to thank - Pattie and Tim Whitlock (and their cute dogs), Sue and Bill Hildebrand (Bill was a Yale hockey star and tennis enthusiast, once recruited by the legendary Bill Cleary) along with Sue and Kevin Diette and Jim Ratliff and Amy Rich. Jim was a former NE tennis star who played in the era spanning Paul Sullivan and Dave Fish. He also had mentored a young Bud Schultz, Christo's father, as he emerged on the circuit. We especially thank these families who opened up their homes and their hearts to again show what true hospitality is all about. Many thanks!

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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