PHILADELPHIA - Playing women's tennis in the Ivy League, it seems as though week-in and week-out that you are forever competing against nationally-ranked opponents. Playing against No. 72 Harvard on Friday, things were not going well early on as Penn found itself down 3-0. However, the momentum started to change and the home crowd got behind the underdogs. Point-by-point and match-by-match, the Quakers clawed their way back into contention for the win.
First, they took No. 1 singles in straight sets to get in the win column. After that, they took No. 5 in straight sets and the score was 3-2 in favor of Harvard. However, this match was far from over as No. 2 and No. 6 were going the full three sets. With the Hamlin Tennis Center Courts divided by the bridge, half the Penn faithful watched Emma Whitfield take No. 6. The other half watched Stephanie Do save multiple match points in her decisive set at No. 2 before clinching the match in a third-set tiebreak.
The 4-3 win marked the first of the Ivy League schedule for the Quakers. It was also the first win against a nationally-ranked opponent for head coach Sanela Kunovac during her time coaching at Penn. The last time Penn picked up a win against a ranked opponent was just over four years ago when the Quakers beat then-No. 72 Dartmouth on April 12, 2008, 5-2, playing on the Lott Courts.
Starting off in doubles, the Crimson would take two of the three matches, but even then the Quakers would not go down without a fight until the very end. Harvard jumped out early by taking the first doubles match at No. 3, 8-2. Penn would rebound with a win at No. 1 in a matchup of nationally-ranked doubles pairings. In this match, Jules Rodin and Sol Eskenazi showed why they are continuing to move up in the rankings as they dispatched Harvard's No. 48 team, 8-4. Penn's No. 1 team is now 8-3 playing together at No. 1 doubles this year and has two Ivy wins under their belts.
With No. 1 and No. 3 split, the doubles point would come down to the No. 2. However, Penn shuffled the usual pairing in this spot and went with two freshmen, Alex Ion and Srinidhi Raghavan. Like so many other matches, this would also be a back-and-forth match. Penn's No. 2 team rallied from down 5-2 to bring the match even at six-all. Harvard won a hard-fought drawn-out 13th game to go up 7-6, before coming away with the 8-6 win and clinching the doubles point.
Riding the momentum from taking the early doubles point, the Crimson further extended their lead and put themselves on the brink of victory with wins at No. 3 and No. 4 singles. At No. 3, Ion took just one game in the first set as Harvard's Camille Jania stayed unbeaten in the spring season. Daniela DePaoli took two games in the second set at No. 4, but Harvard was on the brink of victory after this match, up 3-0.
Just when the Crimson thought they would be walking out of the match with a 3-0 record to start the Ivy season, the Quakers turned the tide. Eskenazi got the ball rolling with a straight-set win at No. 1. After a 6-2 win in the first set, Penn's freshman took the second, 6-4. Her 10th win of the spring moved Eskenazi to 3-1 overall in Ivy League play. She is now 17-4 overall this year.
Another freshman, Raghavan, would pull the match to 3-2 with a win at No. 5. She jumped out to a 5-2 lead in her opening set. Her opponent would take the next two games, but Raghavan kept her composure, winning the opening set, 6-4. In the second, she again jumped out to a 5-2 lead. This time, there would be no comeback as she took the next game, recording her first career Ivy League win; her sixth win overall this season.
With just two matches to go, this was far from over. Interestingly enough, it was Penn's third doubles team, Stephanie Do and Emma Whitfield, playing No. 2 and No. 6, respectfully, that remained on the courts as they looked to avenge a doubles loss. At No. 2, Do was up after a 6-2 win in the first set, and was leading 5-4 in the second, before her opponent broke serve and rallied to take two more games and force a decisive third set. At the exact same time that was going on, Whitfield had just finished pulling out a tight 6-4 second set after falling in the first, 6-3.
Things were not any easier on the spectator's blood pressure in the third sets. Whitfield had her final set on serve through five games and would earn her first break in the sixth game to go up 4-2. However, Do was in for a battle as she found herself down 5-3 and needed a break of serve for Penn to stay alive. A very emotionally charged Whitfield would pull out the win at No. 6 by capturing two of her last three games, winning 6-3.
This tied the team score at three-all, but there was still a tremendous amount of work to be done. By the time that Whitfield had put the finishing touches on her match at No. 6, Do had gotten the needed break with the match on the line and held serve in the next game to knot her third set at five-all. After Do's opponent held to go up 6-5, Penn's service was anything but routine as Do had to save more match points before forcing a third-set tiebreak at six-all.
In the tiebreak to decide the match, Do won 7-4 as a charged up Penn team celebrated its victory in front of the equally enthusiastic home crowd. For Do, this victory was her 12th of the year. She now moves to 7-5 playing at No. 2 singles by evening her Ivy League record at 2-2.
After a heart-stopping opening match to the Ivy weekend, Penn will be right back on the Hamlin Tennis Center Courts tomorrow afternoon at noon for a match against Dartmouth.
Penn 4, #72 Harvard 3
1: #38 Sol Eskenazi/Jules Rodin (P) def. #48 Hideko Tachibana/Kelly Whelan (H), 8-4
2: Kristin Norton/Hannah Morrill (H) def. Alex Ion/Srinidhi Raghavan (P), 8-6
3: Samantha Gridley/Camille Jania (H) def. Stephanie Do/Emma Whitfield (P), 8-2
Order of Finish: 3, 4, 1, 5, 6, 2
1: Sol Eskenazi (P) def. Hideko Tachibana (H), 6-2, 6-4
2: Stephanie Do (P) def. Kristin Norton (H), 6-2, 5-7, 7-6 (4)
3: Camille Jania (H) def. Alex Ion (P), 6-1, 6-0
4: Natalie Blosser (H) def. Daniela DePaoli (P), 6-0, 6-2
5: Srinidhi Raghavan (P) def. Samantha Gridley (H), 6-4, 6-2
6: Emma Whitfield (P) def. Hannah Morrill (H), 3-6, 6-4, 6-3