Senior co-captain Chris Clayton will finish his Harvard career at the 2009 NCAA championships beginning Wednesday at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center on the campus of Texas A&M. After earning the Ivy League’s automatic bid for the singles bracket, Clayton will meet Arkansas’ Blake Strode, seeded in the 9-16 range, at 1:30 p.m. as he competes for the second year in a row.
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Last Time Out
Harvard upended Dartmouth, 6-1, to finish the season at 13-9 overall and 5-2 in the Ivy League, good for second in the Ancient Eight. Harvard dropped the doubles point to open the match, winning only the No. 1 position, but swept all six singles matches, losing only one set along the way.
Clayton and sophomore Alexei Chijoff-Evans earned wins at the top of the lineup, and teamed up for the win at No. 1 doubles. Senior Sasha Ermakov and sophomore Aba Omodele-Lucien won the third and fourth positions, while freshmen Davis Mangham and Alistair Felton were victorious at slots 5 and 6, respectively.
Last Year at the NCAA Championships
Clayton, ranked 112th, fell in the opening round of the singles championships to Brett Helgeson of Notre Dame, 6-3, 6-1, at the University of Tulsa.
Ermakov and Ashwin Kumar ’08 earned a spot in the doubles bracket in 2008, defeating No. 23 Adam Monich and Nick Rinks of Michigan State, 6-1, 6-4, in the opening round before falling to No. 6 Taylor Fogleman and Chris Kearney of North Carolina in the second round, 6-1, 6-4.
Harvard at the NCAA Championships
This will mark the second year in a row and sixth time this decade a Harvard player has competed in the singles bracket at the NCAAs. Since 1982, Harvard has failed to qualify an individual just six times, from 1988-89, 2000-01 and 2006-07.
Harvard has won 16 championships in singles as well as 17 titles in doubles. Joe Clark ’83 won the first intercollegiate championships in the spring of 1883. Crimson players would go on to capture the title 15 more times between the fall of 1883 and 1916.
Since that time, the best finish by a Harvard player occurred in 1999, when James Blake ’01, the number one-ranked player in the country, lost a three-set match to Jeff Morrison of Florida, 6-7(2), 6-2, 4-6, in the championship final. Jonathan Chu ’05, a four-time partaker in the championships, advanced to the semifinals in 2005.
Finishing Up a Stellar Career
Clayton carries an 84-48 mark in singles for his career, including a 20-10 record in 2009, which tied him for the team lead in wins with Chijoff-Evans, Mangham and Felton. A three-time first-team All-Ivy selection as well as a second-team honoree his freshman season, Clayton became the 14th player in Ivy League history to be named to the first team in singles three different times, joining former Crimson players Howard Sands ’83, Larry Scott ’86, Michael Zimmerman ’92 and Jonathan Chu ’05. Chu earned first-team honors all four years.
This season, Clayton competed at the No. 1 position during dual season, going 10-4 overall, including 6-1 in the Ancient Eight. He began the fall season by upsetting then-No. 12 Nate Schnugg of Georgia at the Napa Valley Tennis Classic, 6-4, 6-4. He ended the fall campaign by nearly knocking off then-No. 10 John Patrick Smith of Tennessee, last year’s NCAA runner-up, at the ITA National Indoors, before falling, 6-7(6), 5-7.
After wrapping up the regular season, Harvard garnered numerous Ivy League and Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) awards.
The team’s MVP, Clayton also became the 10th Crimson player to be named Ivy League Player of the Year since the award was first handed out in 1987. Brown, Columbia, Yale and Princeton each have had a player win the award three times. Clayton and Chijoff-Evans earned unanimous first-team All-Ivy honors in singles, while the duo was tabbed to the second team in doubles. Ermakov was named honorable mention in singles.
The ITA honored Clayton with the Farnsworth/ITA Senior Player of the Year Award for the Northeast region as well as the ITA/Arthur Ashe Award for Leadership & Sportsmanship, which goes to a player who has exhibited outstanding sportsmanship and leadership as well as scholastic, extracurricular and tennis achievements.
In addition, Clayton was regionally nominated for the ITA/Rafael Osuna Sportsmanship Award, which is given to the player who displays sportsmanship, character, excellent academics, and has had outstanding tennis accomplishments. He was one of six players nationally up for the award.
Chijoff-Evans was tabbed the ITA Player to Watch for the Northeast region.
Clayton stands 79th in the latest ITA singles rankings. He rose as high as 53rd during the season. He has been ranked in the ITA top 125 at least once during all four years at Harvard. As a team, the Crimson finished the regular season ranked 64th in the country, rising to a high of 47 at the beginning of the spring season. Final rankings will be released following the NCAA championships.
Clayton was also the top-ranked player in the Northeast region heading into the spring season. He and Chijoff-Evans were the No. 1 duo in doubles for the region after winning the ITA Northeast Regional in October. Clayton also won the singles bracket. They became the first Harvard players to win either the singles or doubles bracket of the Northeast Regional since the 2004-05 season.
Harvard’s Newest Captain
Michael Hayes, the only junior on the spring roster, was named the captain for the 2009-10 Harvard men’s tennis team.