CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – If Sunday’s match at the ECAC Championships is any indication, the Ivy League contest between Penn and Harvard has joined the ranks of “can’t miss” matches.
In a semifinal match, Penn and Harvard engaged in a hotly contested 4-3 battle with the 46th-ranked Crimson coming out on top.
Harvard took a 1-0 lead with a win in the doubles point. The Crimson won at Nos. 1 and 3 in convincing fashion with victories of 8-2 and 8-3. The match at No. 2 was tied, 5-5, and did not finish as the point was already locked up for Harvard.
The lead quickly went to 3-0 in favor of Harvard with wins at No. 5 and then No. 2 singles. Both wins were in straight sets as Davis Mangham defeated Alex Vasin, 6-2, 6-1 and then Sasha Ermakov defeated Jonathan Boym, 6-3, 6-2.
One point away from defeat, Penn quickly composed itself and turned a bleak situation into a promising one.
Junior Adam Schwartz started the comeback process with a win at No. 3 over Michael Hayes, 7-5, 7-6. Penn’s two freshmen, Phil Law and Jason Lin then put together individual comebacks to tie the match.
At No. 4 singles, Law erased a 3-0 deficit in the first set to defeat Alistair Felton, 7-6, 7-5.
Jason Lin’s comeback was even more impressive as he rallied from 4-1 down in the second set after dropping the first for a stirring three-set win over Aba Omodele-Lucien at No. 6 singles, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. Lin was ahead, 5-1 in the third only to watch Omodele-Lucien get back within one point. Lin, showing poise ahead of his rookie status, calmed himself and closed out the match.
The match came down to No. 1 singles, and the top players from each team did not disappoint.
In the midst of the other six singles matches, Penn’s Hicham Laalej and Alexei Chijoff-Evans were engaged in a back and forth match with the dual result at stake. Laalej claimed the first set, 6-3, and held the lead in the second set. Laalej had four match points, but Chijoff-Evans staved off elimination and forced a third set with a 7-6 win. By this point, the other matches had all been completed and all eyes turned to the final match on the courts.
The two matched each other shot for shot in the third set, with neither pulling ahead and a tiebreaker was needed to decide the match. Chijoff-Evans shot out to a 6-2 lead in the tiebreaker and had four match points of his own. Laalej fought back and erased the deficit to take a 7-6 lead of his own. Laalej had his fifth match point of the night, but could not close out Chijoff-Evans. Harvard’s No. 1 player came back with some big serves to reclaim the lead and eventually the match, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 (7).
“This would have been a big win for us, to say the least,” head coach Nik DeVore said. “Especially at Harvard where they had a big, hostile crowd behind them. I would be lying if I said this wasn’t a devastating loss.”
One silver lining from the result is that it was in a non-conference tournament, not the Ivy League season. The two teams will meet again on April 11 on the Lott Courts at Penn. That meeting will carry extra significance and meaning after this weekend’s closest of affairs.
“Hopefully, the team will realize just how well they competed today against one of the top teams around,” DeVore said. “Adam, Phil and Jason were incredible under very tough circumstances. This should really help their confidence the rest of the season.”
Penn is back in action on Monday in the third-place match against another Ivy opponent, Brown.
#46 Harvard 4 Penn 3
1. Ermakov/Chijoff-Evans def. Laalej/Law 8-2
2. Boym/Schwartz vs. Hayes/Felton 5-5 DNF
3. Mangham/Omodele-Lucien def. Roth/Vasin 8-3
1. Alexei Chijoff-Evans def. Hicham Laalej 3-6,7-6 (9), 7-6 (7)
2. Sasha Ermakov def. Jonathan Boym 6-3,6-2
3. Adam Schwartz def. Michael Hayes 7-5,7-6
4. Phil Law def. Alistair Felton 7-6,7-5
5. Davis Mangham def. Alex Vasin 6-2,6-1
6. Jason Lin def. Aba Omodele-Lucien 4-6, 6-4, 6-4