Men’s Tennis: Doubles dominance critical for Northwestern against Notre Dame

Abbey Chase and Abbey Chase

Following a promising start to the season, Northwestern (5-0) will face its toughest test yet Tuesday night, taking on Notre Dame. The 30th-ranked Fighting Irish enter the match with a 5-3 record, including a 6-1 victory over No. 39 Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Saturday.

The Wildcats, ranked 62nd, will be up against a team that has given them trouble in the past. Notre Dame defeated NU 6-1 last year, and the Cats haven’t defeated the Fighting Irish since 2003 in a close 4-3 victory.

NU has already notched one upset win this year, taking out then-No. 51 Alabama in a tight 4-3 win over the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, Ala. in January.

One key to NU’s success so far has been its dominance on the doubles court. In all five matches this season, the Cats have won the doubles point, giving NU an edge heading into singles play.

After NU split the first two doubles matches with Alabama, junior Sidarth Balaji and senior Tobias Reitz won the decisive third doubles match 9-8(6) over Daniil Proskura and Carlos Taborga, the 21st-ranked team in the country. Balaji and Reitz’s win earned the Cats the first point of the day, a critical pickup in the team’s close victory over the Crimson Tide.

Most recently, NU swept Western Michigan in all three doubles matches on Saturday, setting the tone for the Cats’ 5-2 victory over the Broncos.

“Our doubles was better than it has been, and we got through some close matches,” coach Arvid Swan said of his doubles duos’ performances on Saturday.

Swan highlighted the three doubles pairings’ continued improvement and emphasized NU’s focus on doubles in its match against Notre Dame.

After picking up the doubles point, the Cats have managed to capitalize successfully with the help of impressive singles performances this season. Senior Josh Graves, freshman Nikhil Jayashankar and sophomore Raleigh Smith have all gone undefeated on the singles court, with Smith earning the win-clinching point in two of the team’s matches.

“I’ve made progress in each match,” Graves said, following his fifth singles win of the season, a 6-3,6-0 victory over Simon Blomberg in Saturday’s match. “That’s the most important thing, that I’m improving a little bit with each win, My serve has improved over the course of the last few matches, so I was really pleased with that today and just overall aggressiveness.”

Though the Cats have succeeded against the Broncos in the past – NU holds a 48-4 lifetime record against Western Michigan – the team had to fight through tough singles matches, most notably in Jayashankar’s dramatic 6-1, 3-6, 7-6(4) win at the No. 6 position.

The Cats will need Jayashankar to continue to prevail in tight matches to take out the Fighting Irish.

“I have to play better if I want to beat the best players on the best teams,” Jayashankar said after his win on Saturday. “For that, I need even more focus, even more aggression when I’m playing, cut down on any unnecessary errors and just go for my shots and be confident.”

Tuesday’s match is High School Night, a promotion that might give the Cats more of a home-court advantage.

“I think there’s some high schools with maybe tennis teams in the area that come and watch,” Graves said. “It’s usually pretty exciting, it’s a good atmosphere for us, a lot of noise, and it’ll be an exciting match, that’s for sure.”

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