Men's Tennis: Northwestern climbing in rankings

Daily file photo by Melody Song

Senior Sidarth Balaji serves during a recent home match. The Wildcats have their highest ranking as a team in nine years.

Abbey Chase, Reporter
February 6, 2013 •

The last time Northwestern was ranked No. 33, Facebook was one month old and Roger Federer held two major titles.

A snappy start to the season has put the Wildcats at their highest ranking in nine years. With only one loss so far coming from No. 9 Duke, NU has more than proven itself to be an unyielding opponent.

But the No. 34 Cats' early success this year has not come out of nowhere. NU saw its best season in three years during 2012, when the team went 7-4 in Big Ten play and qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.

With their non-conference season now fully underway, the Cats have simply picked up where they left off last May.

“This year and last year, I’ve been a lot more confident just playing my game,” said senior Sidarth Balaji, who holds a 10-2 singles record. “Being confident has allowed me to play within myself and be more aggressive on my shots. I felt like I’ve been able to play more of a complete match and not have as many losses in the three sets.”

Tenacity in three-set matches has already paid off significantly for NU in the first part of the season. In their nine dual matches so far, the Cats have won 75 percent of their singles matches when pushed to a deciding set.

But the Cats’ success in doubles has been key to giving them the advantage when they take to the singles court.

During last year’s season, NU won nearly 60 percent of its doubles matches in Big Ten play. In their 26 dual matches, the Cats won the doubles point 15 times and went on to win the match 13 of those times. They were only able to win twice without winning on the doubles court, taking out Minnesota 4-3 and Purdue 5-2.

A more aggressive game plan in return games has helped put NU in a winning position.

“We are not giving too many return games away where the opponent gets a free game or don’t have to work,” coach Arvid Swan said. “If you can make them work and struggle through each service game, it applies a lot of pressure to them, especially as the match proceeds towards the end.”

And this year has been no different. An 8-1 record perfectly mirrors NU’s 8-1 doubles tally.

“We’re bringing a lot of energy right off the bat,” sophomore Alex Pasareanu said. “We’re getting on top early, we’re really right in their face and we’ve really focused on staying positive. I think they’ve been a little bit startled by it.”

A busy weekend for the Cats begins on Friday with No. 40 Vanderbilt, a team that narrowly defeated the Cats 4-3 last year in Nashville, Tenn.

NU will next face Harvard in the first of two matches on Saturday in the Cats’ third double-header of the season.

Last week’s rankings placed Harvard at No. 27 but a loss to then-unranked Old Dominion at home  caused the Crimson to suffer a 20-spot free-fall in the new ITA rankings released Tuesday. With a 5-1 lifetime record against Harvard, NU will have the edge going into the match but against a team that is much tougher than the rankings indicate.

The Cats will close out the weekend against unranked Valparaiso Saturday night, a team NU has never faced before.

“It’s just the progress that we’ve made from match to match that’s been good,” Swan said. “We still have a long way to go and so many good teams left to play so we need to continue to make progress and give ourselves a chance to succeed in these upcoming tough matches.”

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