Men’s Tennis: Illinois holds off Northwestern for 5-2 victory

Abbey Chase

The Wildcats may not have won the match but they certainly made the Fighting Illini work for it in Friday’s rivalry battle. In front of packed stands, Northwestern stayed with 20th-ranked Illinois but fell, 5-2.

On the doubles court, all three NU duos fell behind an early break and the Fighting Illini were able to neutralize the home crowd after jumping out to an early lead.

“Our goal is always to try to get ahead early in the matches and put pressure on a team that way and we didn’t do that so that’s something that we need to work on,” coach Arvid Swan said. “We need to come out with a little more offensive play and if we play them again, or against any other Big Ten teams, we need to be going for our shots earlier in the match.”

The Cats fought back and got back on serve on all three courts, firing up the crowd and subduing Illinois’s initial momentum. But the mid-match resurgence was not enough to earn NU the doubles point in the match.

Playing at the No. 3 position, junior Sidarth Balaji and senior Tobias Reitz won three straight games to level the match at 4-4 but could not capitalize on their comeback and went on to lose 8-5. Freshman Alex Pasareanu and sophomore Raleigh Smith suffered a similar fate, failing to close out the Fighting Illini after building a 6-4 lead. Pasareanu and Smith eventually dropped the match, 8-6, after a let cord fell on NU’s side of the court, handing Illinois the doubles point.

“The guys did do a good job of getting back in the matches but it’s tough when you’re playing a team of the quality of Illinois to put yourself in that hole,” Swan said. “We definitely needed to start faster and to give Illinois credit, I thought they played really well in the beginning.”

NU refused to give in however, and though the Cats had already lost the doubles point, juniors Spencer Wolf and Chris Jackman continued to fight in their No. 2 doubles match. Wolf and Jackman prevailed, taking the match, 8-7(5), after climbing out of a 2-5 hole.

Friday’s match saw the return of senior Josh Graves following a nearly four week hiatus. Graves was given little time to ease his way back into play as he faced Dennis Nevolo, ranked fourth nationally. Nevolo was able to quickly take control of the match and closed out Graves, 6-2, 6-2, to give the Illini a 2-0 lead.

Wolf was able to score an individual upset, taking out 21st-ranked Roy Kalmanovich in straight sets, while Smith earned the Cats their second win of the day, beating Stephen Hoh, 6-4, 7-5.

Following a victory over Jackman at the No. 6 slot, Illinois was able to secure the win with Tim Kopinski’s 6-2, 7-5 victory over Pasareanu.

NU will now have a two week break to prepare for its match against Iowa on the road on March 23.

“We’ll have an opportunity to get three of our guys who have kind of been nursing different injuries as close to 100 percent as we can prior to playing Iowa,” Swan said. “This break comes at a good time… We have 10 guys on the team and if we can get 10 guys healthy, that certainly improves our chances of winning against any Big Ten opponent.”

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