Friday, February 11, 2011

HMT: Weekend Wrapup: Checking in to the Heartbreak Hotel/ Davidson at Harvard at 4pm today!

Checking in to the Heartbreak Hotel  -- Weekend Wrap-Up/ Davidson at Harvard at 4pm today!
The Harvard Men's Netters were back on the courts this past weekend with three dual matches.  On Friday, the boys faced off against the Indiana Hoosiers, unquestionably the strongest opponent to date, and third Big Ten foe in a row.   It was a heaping serving of humble pie.  The team from Bloomington, IN downed the Cambridge crew 6-1.   While the Hoosiers are better known nationally for putting a round ball through the net, they proved adept at not making errors and keeping the tennis balls over it.   They swarmed us in doubles, winning all three points – finally closing out Felton and Nguyen at #1 by a break to win 9-7.  Indiana's #1 duo had taken out USC's top pair only a few weeks back.   Even with our secret weapon, pro tour doubles player Eric Butorac coaching on the sideline, we couldn't make up for the Hoosier's polish and poise.   This is not your typical Midwestern team of beef-fed farm boys but rather a veteran team of international stars (5 of 6 singles players were from overseas). 
            In singles, senior captain Aba Omodele-Lucien won the first set quickly to give the team a jolt, only to have the tables turned by Claes Goransson of Indiana (via Sweden) – whose strokes called to mind the Nordic ghost of Magnus Larson and his windmill-like forehand delivery.  Claes kept hurtling himself into the ball without letting up and took the third set 6-4.  Andy Nguyen, playing #5, was the only Crimson to win a singles point.  Andy is returning to form and establishing himself as a very tough out in the line-up due to his potent groundstroke game.   The rest of the men went down with the ship.  Jon Pearlman at the top spot lost his first in a tiebreaker and couldn't recover while Chijoff-Evans and Felton at #2 and #3 respectively lost in straights.    More work to be done…  Hoosiers 6 Crimson 1
On Sunday, we strapped on our Jack Purcell gear to battle the Tribe of William and Mary before playing BU later in the evening (during the first half of the Superbowl).  The Tribe had also fallen to Indiana 6-1 and that would be a good indicator of how evenly the teams were matched.    The doubles would be a show to remember for some time.  Felton and Nguyen wrestled with the nationally-ranked pairing from William and Mary, who had downed the top team from Indiana the day before.  The match was on serve from start to finish until the tiebreaker, with both sides consolidating the serving advantage with relentless pressure and ownership of the net.  The Crimson fell behind a break of serve at #2 and #3 doubles.  Sophomore Josh Tchan and captain Aba Omodele-Lucien at #3 trailed early until Josh let go a flurry of return winners.  At #2, freshman Casey MacMaster and junior Jon Pearlman came from behind to earn the extra tiebreaker frame against a Tribe team comprised of seasoned experts in the two-back return formation.   In all his years, Coach Fish couldn't remember another doubles point that went to three deciding tiebreakers.  The Crimson fell at the top slot despite two perfect returns down 4-3 that didn't garner a mini-break.  At third, Tchan and Omodele-Lucien rode their hot hand to even the score.  With Pearlman and MacMaster up 6-4 (with one match point on their serve), they fell 8-6 in a cruel twist of fate.   And like literary critics say about a Chekhov story – 'if there is a gun on the wall in the second act, it is sure to fire by the third' – so too would those match points prove crucial to the outcome of this drama. 
The singles started slowly for Harvard, with William and Mary jumping out to a 3-1 overall lead with quick wins at #2 and # 4 but Josh Tchan got his mojo back at #6 by drafting off his doubles performance and pummeling his opponent 6-1, 6-2.  His dazzling array of shot-making had his opponent reeling and opposing coaches groaning.  An unofficial tennis study, which has garnered lots of attention in the tennis world, indicates that the tour player who hits a higher of percentage of balls inside the baseline will win the match.  Josh Tchan is someone who takes this to heart and is buying up prime court real estate like Donald Trump.  His best tennis is a slow vice as he keeps taking balls early until he goes for the kill.   With the Tribe one match from victory, the momentum started to swing more in our favor.  Alistair Felton bested his county mate from the same shire in England, Jamie Whitford.   Ali is an all court player with a massive forehand, deft slice backhand, big serve and killer volleys.  In the weeks to come we will have Ali demonstrate on you tube his patented inside-out forehand slice junk ball that he has become known for (there will be a coaching general warning not to try this at home).   He was able to finish more points at net forcing Whitford to pass off his less steady one-handed backhand.  Next to step up for Harvard was Andy Nguyen, who rebounded from a 6-1 first set drubbing to storm back 6-3, 6-4.  This left the Crimson even with the Tribe with one match to go.  Jon Pearlman had lost the first set and pounded his opponent in the second set, only to fall behind 5-2 in a blink of an eye.  This is when things started to get interesting.   With a service hold and a quick break back, Jon was now serving at 4-5 to even the score with all the energy of the crowd and his teammates pulling him along.  Jon fell fall behind early in the game, but came close to wresting back control, but his opponent regained the advantage on a controversial call on Pearlman's putaway overhead.  It was a heartbreaking loss after such a great comeback.  But the boys are going to use this experience to their advantage, as Captain Ahab (as Aba was affectionately called by Chris "Colonel" Clayton) has set his team on a direct course for the white whale of tennis – an Ivy League Title. 
Later that evening, as Americans were gathered around their oversized flat-screen TVs to watch the Superbowl, Harvard Men's Tennis still had work to do.  We hosted our Commonwealth Ave rivals, BU, in a Baattle of Boston.  We had several players donning the Harvard gear for the first time in a dual match – Brendan Seaver (son of Alex '85) and John Thornton (son of John, Sr. '80).  These two players are Coach Fish's first time coaching both the father and the son combinations.   It was a clean sweep as both Seaver and Thornton, as well as the third freshman, Casey MacMaster, earned their first singles victory for Harvard.  Harvard 7, BU 0. 

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