Doubles flip-flop aids NU (Women’s tennis)

David Kalan

After moving up the national rankings from No. 5 to No. 4, one might be surprised to see the Wildcats tinker with success. But Northwestern’s No. 1 doubles team of freshman Audra Cohen and junior Cristelle Grier endured a rough patch, and coach Claire Pollard decided to make a change.

Cohen and Grier went 1-2 at National Indoors in Madison, Wis., and even the lone victory was a 9-8 nail-biter against Tulane’s No. 49 tandem of Maria and Darya Ivanov. The losses were to perennial powerhouse No. 3 Georgia and No. 33 New Mexico, but the duo still struggled to live up to its billing as the top tandem in the nation.

When Pollard switched the pair’s return sides on the court before Sunday’s match against No. 36 Wisconsin, the result was a strong 8-2 defeat of No. 27 Lindsay Martin and Katie McGaffigan. The duo is hoping the switch will continue to pay dividends this weekend as the Wildcats host No. 5 Duke and No. 9 North Carolina.

“Most programs are great because of players, but I think I made a small contribution,” Pollard said. “They’re pleased with the change, and I’m pleased with the change, so finally I did something right for a change.”

The players couldn’t agree more.

“We both return well, but the point after we’ve returned really helps,” said Grier, who now plays on the right side. “It helps Audra come across more … and there’s a whole number of little things that I think will benefit us playing this way around.”

“My forehand in and out is one of my best shots, and Cristelle is pretty much good all over the court,” Cohen said. “It wasn’t as much of a change for her strength as it was for my strength. … The switch in doubles is a good one, and it might surprise them at first and that will definitely be to our advantage.”

The Cats (7-1) will take any advantage they can get as they face what will likely be their strongest competition until May.

The Tar Heels (8-2) are set to come to Evanston on Saturday at 11 a.m. North Carolina is fresh off two 7-0 sweeps against conference rival Virginia Tech and then-No. 3 Kentucky, which had just defeated North Carolina en route to an appearance in the ITA National Team Indoors finals. NU also knocked off Kentucky, on Jan. 30.

North Carolina features the No. 14 doubles duo of Kendall Cline and Aniela Mojzis.

North Carolina’s only other loss of the season also came in Madison at the hands of No. 6 Vanderbilt. The Tar Heels upset NU at home in February 2004, 5-2.

On Sunday, the Cats welcome North Carolina’s Atlantic Coast Conference rivals, Duke. The Blue Devils (5-1) were also in Madison when they suffered their only loss of the season to Kentucky. Duke, which visits Notre Dame this afternoon, features the No. 42 doubles tandem of Jackie Carleton and Katie Blaszak.

The Blue Devils are one of the deepest teams in the country, with four ranked singles players: No. 56 Carleton, No. 96 Saras Arasu, No. 108 Jennifer Zika and No. 115 Blaszak.

Still, Pollard remains confident, as the Cats boast three players in the top 50. Cohen sits at No. 1, followed by No. 4 Grier and No. 49 sophomore Alexis Prousis.

Prousis was named Big Ten Athlete of the Week on Thursday following two doubles wins with teammate Kristi Roemer and a singles upset of No. 33 Megan Moulton-Levy of William & Mary after falling behind 5-0 in the opening set.

“They don’t have the elite players that we have at the top, so we have an advantage there,” Pollard said. “We match up really well and we can go head to toe with them at any spot.”

Duke defeated NU in the team’s one meeting last year, 5-2, in Raleigh, N.C., one day before the Cats lost in Chapel Hill.

The Blue Devils play the Cats a day later this year, and NU is hoping that a reversal of order and place will lead to a reversal of fortune.

“I think we’re really psyched,” Grier said. “We know that it’s going to be a really big weekend and we’ve always had really close matches with these teams. I think it will be a big test to see where we are against top-10 teams. Obviously we weren’t so lucky against Georgia, but it will be a big test for us.”

Reach David Kalan at [email protected].