Men’s Tennis: Northwestern finishes best season since 2001 in disappointing fashion

Abbey Chase

Sunday was not the happy ending the Wildcats’ season deserved.

Northwestern is currently ranked 44th, and its 7-4 record in Big Ten play is a dramatic turnaround from the Cats’ 2-8 finish a year ago. The seven conference wins are the most for NU since the 2001 season and the best performance since its last appearance in the NCAA Championships in 2009.

“I think we’ve competed well the whole season,” coach Arvid Swan said. “We haven’t had too many matches like the one today, so I think there’s been consistency when we’ve needed it.”

On the road for the last time this season, NU (14-8, 7-4) took that play to Purdue (10-14, 2-8) 5-2 on Friday, avenging last year’s 4-3 loss in West Lafayette, Ind.

The Cats had to do things the hard way against the Boilermakers, with the team dropping the doubles point for only the second time in its seven wins this season. Though freshman Alex Pasareanu and sophomore Raleigh Smith scored their 14th win together this season, NU fell short 2-1 in doubles play and headed into singles with a bit more work to do.

Undaunted, the Cats rose to the challenge, winning five of the six singles matches to take the match. Smith and senior Josh Graves were able to close out their opponents in straight sets, but the other three singles matches had to go the distance after NU took the first set and needed to rebound after dropping the second.

“I saw we were in a tough position and that it could have eventually come down to my match,” said junior Chris Jackman, who beat Evan Hawkins 6-1, 6-7, 6-2. “I knew I couldn’t throw it away just because I was angry or upset, so I regained my focus and came back and tried to win that third set to give us a chance.”

On Sunday, the Cats faced a much tougher challenge in No. 36 Indiana (20-8, 7-4), a team against which the Cats hold a 41-39 lifetime record but whom they have not beaten since 2006.

Doubles play got off to an auspicious start, with the No. 1 and No. 2 teams looking comfortable in their matches. Spurred on by their teammates, who were particularly vocal in Sunday’s contest, Graves and junior Spencer Wolf took it to their opponents 8-4, in a match during which everything including the let cords was working in the Cats’ favor. Pasareanu and Smith got an early break in the match but could not hold on and eventually succumbed 8-4. Soon after, a loss at the No. 3 position gave the Hoosiers the first point of the match.

“I think we just kind of lost a little bit of energy, little bit of focus,” Pasareanu said. “In doubles, it goes really quickly. It’s all about momentum so we just kind of lost the momentum and they kept at it.”

In singles play, Graves and Pasareanu got off to quick starts, taking the opening breaks in their matches, but with Wolf, Smith, Jackman, and junior Sidarth Balaji all falling behind early, things began to look increasingly grim for NU. As the match progressed, the Cats continued to fall, and Pasareanu was the only one to weather the storm, defeating Will Kendall 6-4, 6-4.

After not winning a game in first set, Jackman mounted an impressive comeback in the second, taking the set 6-3 from Dimitrije Tasic. But despite a break lead in the third, he couldn’t close it out.

The Cats exit their season in preparation for the Big Ten Tournament this week, which NU is hosting for the first time since 2003.

“I’ll definitely try to forget about this match,” Jackman said. “There’s nothing we can do now. There’s no reason to let it haunt us. We’ll take (Monday) off, regroup, and then Tuesday, back to work.”

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