Men’s Tennis: Mixed weekend in Michigan; Cats top Spartans, fall to Wolverines

Sarah Kuta

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At a time when most Big Ten teams are finding their place in the conference rankings, Northwestern is still searching. While the 48th-ranked Wildcats grabbed a dominating 6-1 victory at Michigan State, they were unable to carry that momentum into Saturday’s match against Michigan, falling to the Wolverines 6-1.

“We competed really hard,” said coach Arvid Swan of NU’s loss to No. 26 Michigan. “We lost a close doubles point and then really played a tight match in singles, and unfortunately didn’t win four points, so that was tough to take. It was quite a high ranked team, and we played them close, but we couldn’t quite get it done.”

After two losses the previous weekend, Swan’s message before the blustery match in East Lansing, Mich., was simple-return to competing the way NU is capable of.

“Our focus was to get off to a good start and to maintain concentration,” Swan said. “Not to complain about outside factors, such as wind and weather, and win convincingly-which we did. It was a pretty complete effort.”

The Cats (9-8, 1-3 Big Ten) jumped out to an early lead against the Spartans (11-9, 0-5 Big Ten), taking the doubles point with wins at No. 1 and No. 3 singles. NU won four of the six singles matches in straight sets, including sophomore Josh Graves’ 6-1, 6-2 victory over Austin Brooks at No. 1.

“On that particular day, Josh just played better,” Swan said, “He didn’t miss a lot. He mixed it up and used the wind to his advantage.”

Alex Sanborn was also able to capitalize on the breeze, notching a 7-6 (6), 6-3 win at No. 5 singles. In what he called an “ugly” match due to the weather, the captain held on through a 5-2 deficit to take the first set.

During the second set, Sanborn stayed patient against John Stratton and let the windy weather go to work.

“(Stratton) was being more consistent than me,” Sanborn said. “But then I started being a little more defensive and he started missing.”

For the senior, confidence was crucial to NU’s victory at Michigan State.

“They’re one of the weaker teams in the Big Ten,” Sanborn said. “So we came in confident we were going to win the match.”

Sanborn and freshman Sidharth Balaji grabbed the Cats’ only single’s wins Saturday against the Wolverines (9-7, 5-0 Big Ten). Sanborn took the first set against Chris Cha 6-4 before winning his second tiebreak of the weekend to take the second set 7-6 (2).

Balaji also fought for his win over Mike Sroczynski, losing the first set but bouncing back to take the second and third.

“(Sroczynski) was hitting some big serves in the first set,” Balaji said. “It was hard for me to break him back, but I stayed in the match and tried to stay positive.”

Balaji’s presence on the court has made him a fierce force for the Cats. The freshman, who has won six of his last seven matches, leads the team with 10 singles victories.

As NU hits the road again to take on Wisconsin, Balaji is looking to continue his winning streak and put the Cats on track for the NCAA tournament.

“He really understands the team aspect of college tennis,” Sanborn said. “He’s really confident in his game and it shows in his matches. He goes for those big shots and he’s consistent.”