Men’s Tennis: Doubles point has led to success for Wildcats this season

Abbey Chase

After a two-week break, the Wildcats made a strong return to the court, notching two Big Ten wins on the road following a loss to Illinois on March 9.

“When you have a little bit of time off, the first priority is getting your timing back,” coach Arvid Swan said about the team’s preparation for their matches against Iowa and Nebraska last weekend.

Leading the team in singles wins is sophomore Raleigh Smith, with 10 match wins after a 7-0 start to the season.

“Having a year under my belt now that I’m a sophomore has helped,” Smith said. “There were a bunch of matches last year that I think I let slip away, especially when I was playing guys that were older and had a little more experience in closing out matches. (This year) it’s been about staying the course. Even the No. 1 (player) in the country is going to have losses. It’s just how you deal with them.”

Northwestern went to Iowa last Friday to take on the Hawkeyes, against whom the Cats boast a 54-27 record.

As they have in all their wins this season, NU secured the doubles point to go up 1-0 in the match.

“When you win the doubles point on the road, you have to just win three matches and that makes life a little bit easier,” Swan said. “It’s always a challenge when you go on the road because you’re facing more than just a team; you’re facing spectators and a different venue, and I think we did a great job as a team supporting each other.”

In Iowa City, junior Spencer Wolf was able to extend the lead with his win at the No. 2 position and Smith secured the match for the Cats with his 6-0, 6-3 victory after junior Sidarth Balaji’s straight set win.

On Sunday, NU faced a new opponent, taking on No. 59 Nebraska for the first time ever.

Because the Cornhuskers are new to the Big Ten and are not in the same region as the Cats, Swan and his players had little knowledge of the team before the match, being unable to scout the team during the fall.

“They’re a very good team, and I think that we made some good adjustments during the match,” Swan said. “You could see that certainly in Raleigh’s match and Chris (Jackman)’s match. They both were down a set and came back and won, which was critical for us to win that match.”

After a 2-1 victory in doubles play, the Cats were able to come up with the necessary three singles wins. Smith gutted out a tough three-set win at the No. 3 position, taking advantage of the hot conditions to defeat a tired Andre Stenger 4-6, 6-0, 6-2.

“I was down 5-1, and it wasn’t looking too good. Josh (Graves) was down and I knew we were in trouble,” Smith said. “At that point, we played off each other a little bit, built a little bit of momentum. (Stenger) seemed like he was a little bit out of shape, and I was ready to run him all day. Once that second set started, I had a lot of energy and I got off to a good start and then it kind of just snowballed from there.”

Following wins by Smith and freshman Alex Pasareanu, Jackman, a junior, sealed the 4-3 victory for NU with a clutch three-set win.

This weekend, the team will face two tough opponents in Minnesota and Wisconsin, teams the Cats have struggled against in the past.

“We’re going to have to come out and play hard and compete great and not give anything away,” Swan said. “Every team in the Big Ten is a good team, so we’re going to do our best to be well prepared and give ourselves a chance to win both matches.”

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