Harvard's Ivy title defense begins Saturday at No. 19 Columbia (Photo: Dean Bauer).
After navigating its non-conference schedule with an 11-5 record, the Harvard men's tennis team kicks off its Ivy League schedule this weekend with tough road tests in No. 19 Columbia and No. 46 Cornell. Harvard will face the Lions and the Big Red for the second time this season.
The Crimson squared off against Columbia and Cornell at the ECAC Team Championships Feb. 14-16 in Hanover, N.H. Harvard took on Cornell in the tournament semifinals, blanking the Big Red by a 4-0 score. Harvard's top two doubles teams of Denis Nguyen and Casey MacMaster, and Brian Yeung and Nicky Hu earned the first point of the match, and singles wins from Nguyen, Sebastian Beltrame and Andrew Ball clinched the match for Harvard.
In the championship match, the Lions battled hard for the doubles point and posted a trio of straight-set victories towards the back end of the singles lineup to seal the 4-0 victory and the ECAC Team Championship trophy.
Harvard has been dominant in the all-time series against Columbia with a 65-16 record in 81 total meetings. The Crimson did not drop a match to the Lions through the first 46 years of the series, with Columbia earning its first victory over the Crimson in 1972. Four of the last nine meetings have been decided by just one point and the teams have alternated wins and losses since the 2009 season.
The Crimson also holds the significant edge in the all-time series with the Big Red, collecting wins in 59 of 70 all-time matchups. A stretch of 34 straight wins from 1962-94 gave Harvard the bulk of its victories against Cornell, but the series has leveled out recently, as Harvard is 6-5 in the last 11 meetings.
About The Crimson
Harvard is eyeing its third straight Ivy League title as it commences with league play, but will have to face one of the most talented Ivy fields in recent history to do so.
Doubles play from the Crimson has been up and down at various points throughout the 2013-14 campaign, but the Crimson did well to claim two of three doubles points in a runner-up finish at the 2014 Mission Valley Spring Classic. Harvard's top doubles tandem of Denis Nguyen and Casey MacMaster sits at No. 11 in the most recent ITA rankings, and the No. 2 team of Brian Yeung and Nicky Hu leads all pairs with seven dual wins this season. No. 31 Nguyen has been dialed in atop the Crimson singles lineup with an impressive 8-1 dual record, while rookie Andrew Ball leads all players with nine dual singles wins from the fifth and sixth positions.
While Harvard may be the two-time defending league champion, Columbia has proven to be the team to beat among the Ivies in 2013-14. Entering the weekend as the No. 19 team in the nation, the Lions boast an impressive 14-1 record on the season, including a 12-match win streak heading into the showdown with the Crimson. Winston Lin, Columbia's top singles player, carries a national ranking of No. 14, the highest-ranked player in the Ivy League. Dragos Ignat has been solid behind him in the No. 2 position and the Lions boast winning records on all six singles courts this season. Columbia's top doubles team of Ashok Narayana and Max Schnur carries a national ranking of No. 12.
The Big Red has been solid this year with a 10-5 overall record heading into the weekend. Cornell faced Columbia in both teams' Ivy opener Saturday, with the Lions powering to a 7-0 victory, snapping a five-match win streak for the Big Red. Sophomore Stefan Vinti is the hottest player in the Cornell lineup, having claimed wins in five of his last six singles matches and Quoc-Daniel Nguyen stand second on the team with six singles victories this season between the fourth and sixth positions. Sam Fleck and Chris Vrabel have seen the majority of action as the top doubles team for Cornell, posting a 4-4 record together.
Harvard's Ivy home opening weekend comes April 12-13 when it hosts Princeton and Penn in a pair of 1 p.m. matches.