Friday, March 05, 2010

HMT Update: Midwest Blues, then Victory over the Eagles

HMT Update: Midwest Blues and Victory over the Eagles
Cambridge, 3/5/10

The Crimson stop at Steak n' Shake to drown their sorrows after a tough mid-west weekend. Ice cream shakes work wonders…

Whoever uttered the old tennis proverb, "humility is only one match away," certainly knew what he/she was talking about. After riding a wave of excitement by winning the ECAC tournament at Yale, the Crimson traveled to Indiana to face off against the Purdue Boilermakers and Indiana Hoosiers.

On Saturday, February 20th we went down to the final match against Purdue knotted at 3. Your Crimson jumped off to a 1-0 lead after securing the doubles point with wins at the top two doubles positions.

[Author's Note: Our doubles continues to get better. Everyone is taking great pride in learning the subtleties of the game. We're starting to notice the occasional re-emergence of the "chip lob return" as an offensive weapon. Coach Fish has been preaching this for years as a means to foil opponents who constantly crash the middle. Our lobs may be getting better from our continuing use of what we call the "Pinochet" drill, nicknamed after the ruthless, autocratic Chilean dictator. It is essentially a high-low volley/overhead drill that is so strenuous that it quickly reminds one of torture. It is not to be confused with water boarding.]

The singles swung back and forth. Junior Alexei Chijoff-Evans won at the top spot, but freshman Christo Schultz fell in his first time at #3. Alistair Felton also went down at #2, but only
after coming within one point of pulling off the best comeback of the season. Down 5-0, 40-0 in the second with his opponent serving, the never-count-me-out Englishman - was able to wrest a game, then another. It was like something out of "The Bridge Over the River Kwai." Despite his opponent's apparently insurmountable lead, Ali kept pumping his fists and staying positive. His opponent got rattled. Amazingly, Felton found himself serving for the set, only to be "iced" when his opponent took a 10-minute injury time out (to the evitable question, we reply "No comment."….). His Boilermaker opponent was able to recover his health and his game, finally slaying Alistair in the tie breaker. Andy Nguyen won again at #5 in straights to give us a 3-2 advantage with two matches remaining. Sophomore Davis Mangham, in his debut match, was battling an epic counter-puncher. Just a shade off from his normal rhythm, he fell 6-3 in the third set, which shifted all the attention (and marbles) to Freshman Josh Tchan, who was playing their former #1 and senior. In his first decider, Josh stepped on the gas to take a 4-1 lead in the third set with piercing forehands and aggressive play. At this point, his inexperience caused him to relax for a moment, which immediately filled his once "down and out" opponent with renewed energy. With fantastic points and some controversy (a piece of Josh's shirt perhaps touching the net on a key point), and some Purdue magic, the Boilermakers overcame the Crimson for a 4-3 win.

Without much time to lick our wounds, the boys from Cambridge drove across the state to Bloomington to face off against the Hoosiers. With Indiana ranked in the top 40, it was going to be a tough match against another Big 10 foe. After practicing on the Hoosiers slick indoor courts we knew it was going to be a fast-paced day - so we girded ourselves as best we could.

The Hoosiers doubles proved formidable. They had perfectly designed their strategy to the slick courts (think shiny, like linoleum). They closed like...banks. Very fast. With volleys skidding, it was difficult to get a good rip at the ball (all you could do was block returns), so by blanketing the net, they snuffed out anything that hung at all before we could get much of a foothold. Lobbing especially was difficult off a skidding ball. Omodele-Lucien and Schultz won in convincing fashion at #1 doubles (going undefeated vs. Big Ten opponents) but second and third doubles fell. Felton and Nguyen, who often click like clockwork, couldn't find their mojo that day due to the relentless pressure of Indiana. We also lost at third doubles with Chijoff-Evans and Tchan perhaps leaving their return of serve in the overhead bin on the flight over. Indiana 1, Harvard 0.

With only four courts for the match, the top 4 singles players took the courts. Felton, at #2, fell in straights after some chances in the first-set tiebreaker. Tchan at #4 played the Australian, Ferguson (who was their #1 player and top 50 national player last year only to return from an injury), and went back and forth with the senior from down-under controlling the tempo a bit more. Tough weekend for the frosh but great experience. Indiana 3 - Harvard 0. But things stayed interesting. Alexei Chijoff-Evans was locked in a Peter Jackson-like battle at #1 that lasted close to 2.5 hours against the South American Santiago Grunter, ranked in the top 30 nationally. Schultz was up a break in the second at 5, with Aba having just won the set to split at #3. Andy was cruising at #6. The chorus of Harvard chants grew louder. For about 20 minutes, I think we all thought we were going to pull it off. Oh, how quickly things change. Schultz squandered the lead and fell at #5, Aba nosed-dived in the third and Alexei fell in the third set breaker after holding two match points! Ouch. Nguyen did win in straights. Our team competed very hard, which was some solace.

Back in Beantown, the Crimson resumed their winning ways. Harvard clipped the Eagles wings 5-2 against BC on Friday, February 26th. The doubles was back in form though our #1 duo was downed by BC's top tandem (26th ranked nationally). #2 Felton/Nguyen and #3 Chijoff-Evans/Tchan brought their A-games. As for the singles, Harvard won at #1, #4, #5 and #6, giving us all the points we needed for the victory. Chijoff-Evans won at the top spot while Nguyen, Schultz and captain Mike Hayes won respectively at the end of the line-up. Felton and Omodele fell at #2 and #3.

Let me take a moment to speak about third doubles. Our players joke that there are three events in college tennis - singles, doubles and third doubles. It is like regular doubles (same rules) but it tends to act as the Bermuda Triangle of Tennis where some players never seem to get their bearings. You are certain to find odd pairings (think of Stovell and the 6' 10" Ian Williams or Phil Tseng and Tom Blake or Passarella and anybody). Often a great singles player is matched with a good server, or maybe you will find two South American ripping groundstrokes but playing back. The number of let cords and frame shots is seemingly magnified by a factor ten, not to mention tight line calls, odd formations, bizarre volley techniques… It is an anything goes, Wild-West shoot out mentality that Tchan and Chijoff-Evans are trying to master this year for the Crimson. Try wandering down to court #3 sometime and see for yourself the kind of "anything goes" doubles that makes it such a fun event.

Next Thursday, we host Radford University at 5pm at Harvard's Murr Center, and St. John's on Friday at 4pm. Saturday morning, we travel to Atlanta to begin our spring trip, with play beginning in the Blue Gray Classic in Montgomery, AL the following Thursday.

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