Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Harvard Men's Tennis: 2011 Ivy League Season – A Halftime Pause...don't miss the video promo at the bottom! You'll love it!

2011 Ivy League Season – A Halftime Pause


This is a once-in-a-lifetime Ivy League Tennis season.  Princeton and Cornell are both undefeated at the top of the league.  But that tells very little of the storyline.  Princeton has won all five of their matches 4-3 - including against the Crimson this past weekend.  Cornell has won 3 of its 4 matches 4-3 – including us.   There have been more 4-3 matches in the league than in its history according to Coach Fish, a veteran of the league for over 40 years.   While the title match will be the Tigers against the Big Red, everyone has some good stories to tell from such a nail-biting season.   Dartmouth, who was a cellar dweller last year, came within a third –set tiebreaker from upsetting top-seeded Cornell (who won the ECAC crown in February).   Columbia, last year's champs, is now tied for last place.   Brown, also in the cellar, came within a hair's breathe of beating Princeton in Providence.   So where does that leave us? 


In the first weekend of the season, we faced off in our first match against Cornell.  We swept the doubles and jumped out to a 3-1 lead with singles wins by Casey "Rocky Mountain" MacMaster at #5 and Alistair "Shire" Felton at #3 only to stumble and lose the last three matches.  Cornell deserves lots of credit for their performance.  Their four seniors have proved to be a strong combination and they showed their veteran form in fighting back from the brink.   It was a bitter pill to swallow on opening day and tested our resolve against Columbia.  The boys got up off the mat to down the Lions 5-2 in a strong performance.  Jonathan Pearlman, our top dog, regained his winning ways by quickly dispatching Haig Schneidermann in straight sets.  This set the tone for the day as the top four singles players all garnered points for the win.  Captain Aba Omodele-Lucien also posted a singles victory after falling to the Big Red the day before.  The Columbia match showed great resilience, or what Alistair Felton had dubbed the important Crimson attribute of  "stick-to-it-iveness."  The quote Coach Fished shared on the board for the Lions match was from Winston Churchill,  "Success is the ability to go from one failure to another without a loss of enthusiasm."


With a week to retool, the Crimson set off this past weekend for a Saturday tussle with the Quakers and a Sunday showdown with the Tigers.  It was a beautiful day in Philadelphia on Saturday, as we played in their outdoor center right in the middle of campus – drawing lots of exuberant fans, roommates and frat brothers.   The day started off on the wrong foot as we lost our first doubles point of the Ivy season.  While Penn celebrated its good fortune, the Crimson huddled in enemy territory and vowed to fight to the end.  It took everything we could muster to wrestle 5 singles victories away to put us over the top.  Captain Aba was first off the courts with his straight set win at #2, aided by his trademark angle passing shots.  Freshman Casey MacMaster was not far behind at #4 as he continued his Ivy unbeaten streak riding his serve and volley game to victory.  Jon Pearlman continued his winning ways by outlasting a very talented Hicham Laalej (Monaco) in three grueling sets at the #1 spot. Pearlman plays a rugged style of tennis – hurting opponents with his laser backhand and mopping up with his forehand.   Sophomore Andy Nguyen at #5 gutted out a long three-setter while Josh Tchan steamrolled at #6 to give us the fifth singles win of the day.    With the two wins under our belts, how would things go against top dog Princeton?

While the outcome of the match against the Tigers has already been disclosed in the first paragraph, the epic match deserves some commentary.  It was unquestionably one of the best-fought matches I've ever seen.  This was not one of those ugly Ivy-League contests as both teams play tight and try to gut out a pressure-packed win.  It was simply a knock-down, drag-out match.   The doubles was the only disappointment of the day as we forgot the fundamentals that have helped us all season long.   Felton and Nguyen won at third doubles in a romp, only to have #1 dubs MacMaster /Omodele-Lucien as well as  #2 dubs Pearlman/Tchan, fall in tie-breakers.  There would be 8 tie-breakers on the day – a signal of how tightly contested this match was.  Harvard lost five of the first six sets, but every one of saw a Crimson player battle back to force a third set!  The only straight set win was Andy Nguyen at #5, who downed his opponent 6-4, 6-4 in his best performance of the season.  Andy has a huge ability to hit through the court but has added the ability to change heights and angles with spin.  In this match in particular, Andy used his angle forehand to open up the court, and then yanked his opponent off the court with his finishing power.  It was a masterful performance and showed how he can get to the next level of the game.   The rest of the matches just went on and on…and on.  

Let me try to set the scene.  We played outside at the Pagoda courts (the Lenz Center was under renovation) and Princeton used the free-pizza and coke gimmick to lure a mass of supporters.  Yet, three Harvard players aided by a Crimson parent were somehow able to match the pizza-fed mob cheer for cheer.   Mac McAnulty and Tunc Kiymaz occupied the high ground in the soccer stands over-looking the courts in what appeared to be a dungeon like-opening in the concrete, eerily reminiscent of an archers' slit in a medieval castle.  They fashioned a megaphone from cups and rained down cheers all day long.  When I say "all day," I mean it… the match took five hours – the longest dual match in the new college format that I've ever seen.   Here are the scores: 



Matija Pecotic def. Jonathan Pearlman


7-5, 2-6, 6-4


Aba Omodele-Lucien def. Matt Spindler


6-7, 7-6, 6-2


Augie Bloom def. Alistair Felton


6-3, 3-6, 6-2


Casey MacMaster def. Matt Siow


6-7, 7-6, 7-6


Andy Nguyen def. Dan Richardson


6-4, 6-4


Alex Faust def. Joshua Tchan


6-3, 2-6, 7-6


Captain Aba saved four match points, including rifling a one-handed backhand down-the-line return winner in the second set tie-breaker that broke his opponents will.  Casey MacMaster won in an old-school serve and volley shootout as both players charged the net.  Josh Tchan fell in the third set tie-breaker after serving for the match at 5-4 in the final frame.  Jonathan Pearlman won the second set against Princeton's top dog in a herculean battle, only to fall 6-4 in the third in what was a three- hour match.  Felton fell at #3 against Tiger freshman Augie Bloom, who was taking balls on the rise off the baseline and flipping winners like he was playing ping-pong.  There was no stopping his winner spree on that day.    When the dust settled, MacMaster was the last one to finish in a 3.5 hour singles match.  It was just the kind of day it was.  Nobody, not even the crowd, had anything left.   


The Crimson is set to battle arch-rival Yale this Friday in New Haven at 2pm and Sunday against Brown at the same time at Harvard.  Come out and support the team.   Check out our latest promo video, recorded on the bus back from Princeton: 

See you on the courts!


Dave Fish
E. Scott Mead Family Head Coach of Men's Tennis
Harvard University Dept of Athletics
Murr Center
65 N. Harvard St.
Boston, MA 02163

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