The University Daily Since 1873 Updated: Wednesday, February 21, 2007 6:16 PM 

Walk-On Finds His Stroke

Published On Tuesday, February 20, 2007  11:06 PM

After walking on to the men's tennis team and enduring trying seasons as an underclassman, senior Scott Denenberg has worked his way up and become one of the team's hardest-hitting and most valued players.
Four years ago, when Scott Denenberg was choosing a college, he was told that if he was looking to play tennis, Harvard was not the place for him.

Denenberg made Harvard his place nonetheless, and, through three-and-a-half years of grueling work, proved he belongs on the courts across the river every bit as much as he belongs on the cobblestones of Cambridge. With his exemplary ethic, he established his place on the men's tennis team and earned the respect of his teammates and coaches and the honor of the co-captain title.

Arriving on campus in 2003 as an unrecruited member of an exceptionally strong class of tennis players, Denenberg walked into his first practice with no guarantees of being invited back.

"Scott came to me and said, "Can I ask for a spot on the team?" Crimson coach Dave Fish '72 said. "I told him that he could certainly ask, but that I couldn't promise anything."

So he joined the team with seemingly dim hopes of ever playing a meaningful match. Though his play was not the prettiest to watch, once on his coaches' radar Denenberg had the opportunity to showcase his drive: a most important trait, but the toughest to recruit.

And showcase it he did, often to the point of distancing himself from his teammates.

"I didn't get along with my teammates the first year," Denenberg said. "I always felt I was fighting against them to get on the team."

Teammates and the coach concurred, noting that Denenberg's passion for self-improvement led him to underemphasize his doubles game and make him a recluse.

Still, Denenberg made an impression on his teammates and his coaches. He matriculated as a self-described "six-foot twig," but quickly earned a reputation as a "meathead" in the weight room and a hard worker with ruthlessly high expectations on the court. By the time he was a sophomore, he had built his body and elevated his game, but had still not secured a regular spot in the lineup.

"He was a guy who really works the hardest," junior Ashwin Kumar said. "Every day, he tries to train more, lift more, run more. We saw a general progression of his play."

With all his improvement, Denenberg's yearning to prove himself against an adversary grew only stronger.

"Every practice, I try to come out with more energy," Denenberg said.

He carried that energy into his first dual match, playing No. 6 against a Clemson squad that was ranked in the top 40 at the time. But the challenge didn't phase Denenberg,"I just rolled over him," he said.

His place on the team secured with strong singles and, eventually, doubles play, Denenberg came out of his shell while maintaining the discipline that had brought him success.

"By the end of sophomore year he had shown more commitment and support for the other players," said co-captain Gideon Valkin, Denenberg's doubles partner. "That's a very big deal on our team. Slowly and surely he became more of a team man. By junior year he was a total leader. He was the role model of hard work; he showed great initiative."

Now a senior, Denenberg's place on the team is secure, but his ethic has not slackened. He is the embodiment of his coaches' advice to the team to maintain an "underdog mentality," saying that, "you run faster when you have something to chase."

Whether Denenberg chases down his opponents' shots or his own grueling athletic and academic goals - he is concentrating in engineering sciences - he has shown that he has the fortitude to reach them.

"He grew from a solid baseline player, into a physically strong, very highly conditioned, man - an athlete," Fish said. "He's trusting his game and executing at a very high level."

Though it wasn't always pretty, Denenberg's hard work has proved that Harvard is indeed the place for him.

- Staff writer Jonathan B. Steinman can be reached at

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