Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Crimson Splits with Big Ten Foes in Opening Weekend Performance

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Crimson Splits with Big Ten Foes in Opening Weekend Performance
In the opening match of the 127th Season of Harvard Men's Tennis, the Crimson faced off against a hungry band of Northwestern Wildcats at the Murr and left with the scars to prove it.    Northwestern pounced first – knocking us off balance from the start.  We fell behind a break of serve in all three doubles matches within minutes as they showed us a speed and closing attack that we hadn't seen in our scrimmage against Dartmouth or our Invitational with Marist and George Washington.  Momentarily stunned, we actually managed to fight back to level at both #1 and #3 doubles.   Our nationally ranked duo of Alistair Felton (a junior from England) and Andy Nguyen (a sophomore from Phoenix) were playing a pro level doubles match at the top slot.  It was highlight-worthy tennis as both teams showed how much fun doubles can be.  The match went back and forth as the Crimson pair had break points to go up – only to be thwarted in the end 8-5.  Our number three doubles team of Casey MacMaster (the rookie from Colorado) and Jonathan Pearlman (a junior from NYC) regained their composure after the early onslaught and came roaring back to win 8-5.  That left senior captain Aba Omodele-Lucien (Berkeley, CA) and sophomore Josh Tchan (LA) on court with the doubles point hanging in the balance.  Unfortunately, the Wildcats didn't let up and served out the match for an 8-6 win and the doubles point. 
In singles, Northwestern scratched and clawed their way to victory in five out of six singles matches in an impressive show of ferocity and grit.   It is hard to put a smiley face on the result as they outlasted us with more consistent tennis.  Northwestern team played a rugged and physical style that showed that we were vulnerable to a strong defensive team.  Feeling their pressure, we weren't able to be patient enough to build our points and were not polished enough to finish when we had the openings.  Captain Omodele-Lucien won at the #5 position in two tie-break sets and Jonathan Pearlman had a match point at the top slot in a match that slipped away from him.   It was tough medicine for the boys on their opening night but it served to get us quickly up to the speed of national-caliber play and prepared us better to take on Purdue the next day. 
On Saturday, we faced the Purdue Boilermakers after a good night's sleep. It was another chance to test our mettle against a strong national foe that had beaten us in the past three encounters (and would go on to beat Yale the following day in New Haven).   The team was undoubtedly bolstered by the last minute arrival of our Volunteer Assistant Coach Eric Butorac, who had flown in well past midnight on Friday night (Saturday am) from his semifinal doubles performance at the Australian Open!  We had been showing his match with Rojer against the Bryan Brothers on our big flat screen TV before the match in our Team Lounge (courtesy of Peter Palandjian and Greg Lee), when Eric arrived at the courts with his coffee in hand.   There was no question that the boys wanted to show off what they had learned for their mentor.  It was an impressive display as the Crimson jumped over Purdue in all three doubles slots.  Felton and Nguyen destroyed the top duo from Purdue 8-3 as Eric coached them in how to handle a team that serves and stays back, as happens often now on the pro tour (see his blog for the USTA to learn more).   MacMaster and Pearlman, who moved up to the second position, also hit all their marks and won the position battle at the net, garnering an 8-4 win by a wide two-break margin.  Omodele-Lucien and Tchan also found their winning ways as they broke serve four times and won 8-5.
In singles, the Crimson continued strong.  The singles line-up was more patient in the building stages of the point, playing better defense and finishing more strongly at the net.   Moving up to the fourth spot, Captain Omodele-Lucien continued his winning ways in singles, showing off his great court movement, all-around game, and big finishing forehand.   Jonathan Pearlman followed suit at #1 by winning the war of attrition to post a 6-3, 6-2 win.  Senior Alexei Chijoff-Evans from Plano, Texas also notched his first dual match win in convincing fashion at the third position 6-1, 7-5 as he set up the points with his big serve and finished them off with laser-like backhands.  Sophomore Andy Nguyen, seeing his first singles action, showed why he belonged in singles with a strong 6-4, 6-2 win at the #6 anchor position.   The only two losses on the day came in tiebreakers once the match was already decided.  Alistair Felton fell in a third set tiebreaker after leading 5-4 in the extra frame and serving, only to be denied by three straight winners from his dogged Purdue foe.   Josh Tchan fell at #5 in a third set match tiebreaker 10-8 after putting on a great display of attacking tennis in the second. 

We are happy to be in the flow of the season now and look forward to hosting our third big ten team in a row when we face off against Indiana on this Friday at 5pm at the Murr Center.  On Sunday, at high noon, we compete against the Tribe of William and Mary in a storied rivalry.  Please come out and see us in action! 

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