The 7-0 score line reveals little about Northwestern’s match against North Carolina State on Saturday. In a highly competitive affair, the Wildcats fought to the very end against the No. 48 Wolfpack, in a match that featured huge momentum shifts and high intensity from both teams.
“We lost the match, but we’re going to get better,” coach Arvid Swan said. “It was good to see some guys that haven’t played come in and play given the opportunity, but we’re trying to win matches.”
NU took a hit early after it went 1-2 in doubles to play to fall behind 1-0 in the match. The Cats have won the doubles point in every one of their wins so far this season and failed to gain an advantage over North Carolina State heading into singles play.
On the singles court, the Wolfpack extended its lead to 2-0 after sophomore Raleigh Smith fell to Robbie Mudge, who is undefeated this season, in two tight sets.
After winning the first set in four of their singles matches, the Cats looked poised for a comeback.
Junior Sidarth Balaji opened strong, playing offensively and using his forehand to go up in an early break before Dominic Hodgson came back to send the set into a tiebreak, where Balaji played some inspired tennis to counter Hodgson’s energy and take the first set 7-6(5).
“Without looking at the results, I feel like this is one of the matches I was the most comfortable,” Balaji said. “I think it’s one of the best matches I’ve played all season, actually. I was hitting my forehand well, serving well. It just takes a couple of close points each set and anything can happen.”
Junior Spencer Wolf, playing at the No. 1 singles position for only the second time in his career, served out the first set 7-5 after Jaime Pulgar got off to a quick start and led the match 3-0.
Chris Jackman fell behind early in the first set but clawed his way out of a 2-5 hole to send the set into a tiebreak, one that was crucial to keeping NU’s hope of victory alive.
“Definitely my energy was high in that first set, feeding off the crowd and my teammates a little bit,” the junior said. “I knew I needed to win my set because it was looking tight on the other courts.”
Playing in his first singles match of the season, senior Eric Spector dropped the first set at the No. 6 position and appeared to be out of the match down 3-0 in the second but fought back to level the match in a tiebreak before losing 6-4, 7-6(2).
With the Cats failing to get on the board with only four matches left on court, the team found itself in a must-win position with all remaining matches going down to the wire.
Following a quick 6-1 first set, freshman Nikhil Jayashankar dropped the second 4-6 and was broken early in the deciding set. Leveling the match at 4-4, Jayashankar couldn’t capitalize on the momentum shift and lost 1-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the deciding match of day.
Jackman would go on to drop his match, winning just one game after his first set victory and eventually falling to Austin Powell 6-7(2), 6-1, 6-0.
Wolf was unable to recover after dropping the second set, and NU suffered its final tough loss of the day with Balaji losing 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-3 despite being up a break in the second set.
“Each set against players like this at (the) No. 1 and 2 (positions), you can’t give them any points or it will be deciding the result,” Balaji said.