Clutch singles victories seal win (Men’s Tennis)

Tania Ganguli

Facing match point Saturday at Combe Tennis Center, Northwestern senior Josh Axler faulted on his first serve.

As Axler got ready for his second attempt, opponent Chris Wettengel of Minnesota turned to the bleachers and grinned.

“I got him,” he mouthed to his teammates watching from the stands.

The truth was it had been over for a while. The Wildcats men’s tennis team (9-8, 2-4 Big Ten) took the doubles point, but by the time Axler doubled faulted away his last point, the No. 12 Gophers (14-3, 5-1) had clinched the match 4-1 and only the final score remained at stake.

It was the pain from that match — and the five before it — that NU used as motivation Sunday when it took on Iowa (5-9, 1-6) at home in hopes of snapping a six-game losing streak.

The Cats’ success in doubles against Minnesota didn’t carry over against Iowa, but they took four of six singles matches to come back to win 4-3.

The doubles point came down to the No. 3 match pitting NU freshman Adam Schaechterle and senior Jackie Jenkins against Pete Rose and Chaitu Malempati. Schaechterle and Jenkins were outplayed by their Hawkeyes counterparts in an 8-5 defeat.

“Adam and Jackie weren’t ready for the team they played,” coach Paul Torricelli said. “They’ve got to be sharper than that.”

The bottom four singles players more than made up for the Cats’ doubles loss, winning their matches quickly in straight sets.

Junior Ahmed Wahla got the first win virtually without resistance from Iowa freshman Parker Ross, taking him down 6-2, 6-0 to tie up the score.

“It was so easy because I was pissed off about the last six matches,” Wahla said.

At the No. 4 spot, sophomore Chuck Perrin allowed Johan Bergenas stay in the match before taking the first set 6-4. After that, the fun and games were over and Perrin pounded Iowa’s redshirt freshman, taking the second set 6-1.

The upper third of the lineup was not having the same success as Perrin and Wahla. Slowed by a muscle injury in his shoulder, sophomore Tommy Hanus fought Stuart Waters as long as he could, but Waters kept the match just beyond Hanus’ reach.

“I’ve had to hold back on my serves a lot,” Hanus said. “I kept losing points here and there and missing easy volleys and I really lost my confidence.”

Jenkins lost his first set 7-5 and seemed energized at the start of the second set. Jenkins’ play became calmer and the Hawkeyes’ Hunter Skogman began to scramble and make more errors than he could afford.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t keep Skogman on his heels long enough to take the match. Jenkins started slipping and slammed the ball into the scoreboard in frustration after one missed point.

Axler and Schaechterle were the last two left on the court, and the Cats needed wins from both to avoid a seventh-straight loss.

“Sometimes it’s like a race,” Axler said. “You just want to get off the court before the other guys.”

The two won their matches only seconds apart. Axler defeated Rose 6-3, 6-2 and Schaechterle took Chaitu Malempati 6-4, 6-2.

“We desperately needed to win today, ” Torricelli said Sunday. “Even when we lost the doubles point, I knew we were too good at singles to lose.”