Men’s Tennis: Northwestern outlasted by Illinois in Big Ten quarterfinal

Abbey Chase

Northwestern opened its Big Ten season with a loss to Illinois, and its final Big Ten match ended in the same fashion Friday.

The Wildcats threw everything they had at the Fighting Illini, but the No. 3 seed and No. 24 ranked team in the country was too much, taking out NU 4-0 in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament.

The Cats came out firing in doubles play, going up an early break on the No. 1 and No. 3 courts. Play against the No. 28 doubles duo in the country, senior Josh Graves and junior Spencer Wolf, got off to a quick 2-0 lead, but Illinois broke back to level the match. On serve and down 2-3, Graves held a marathon sixth game to level the match at 3-3 but their efforts were for naught, as NU dropped the No. 2 and No. 3 matches 8-5 and 8-4.

“We certainly had some chances to win in doubles,” coach Arvid Swan said. “We lost a bit of momentum. No. 1 doubles was in a dog fight and No. 2 and No. 3, they turned it on us, so all credit to them.”

Singles play began with the Cats facing a 1-0 deficit, and NU fell behind early in almost every match. Graves could not win a game off No. 8 Dennis Nevolo until the sixth game, losing the first set 6-2. Junior Sidarth Balaji quickly fell behind 6-1, and with sophomore Raleigh Smith failing to win another game in the first set after building a 3-1 lead, Illinois began to tighten its grip on the match.

On the other courts, the Cats held tough against the Fighting Illini in three highly competitive matches. Playing at the No. 5 position, freshman Alex Pasareanu stayed even with Stephen Hoh through the first set and went on to win the tiebreak after breaking Hoh, who served for the set at 6-5 . Wolf battled back from a break down in the first set to earn a set point but eventually dropped the first to Roy Kalmanovich, whom Wolf had beaten in the team’s previous meeting with Illinois this season 6-3, 6-2.

“I was just trying to work his backhand and be the dictator,” Wolf said. “I was struggling a little bit, but he was playing well today and he’s a good player. Just the execution wasn’t there, but the game plan was and it’s a few points here and there.”

Chris Jackman jumped out to a quick lead in the No. 6 match, taking the first set 6-2 from Farris Gosea. The junior fell behind 2-5 in the second set but fought back to gain a 6-5 advantage.

After a long battle back, Jackman was forced to walk off the court without finishing the match despite having match point following losses by Graves, Balaji and Smith, which allowed the Fighting Illini to secure the 4-0 sweep.

“Last time I played him it was the first Big Ten match so I guess I was little nervous,” Jackman said. “(On Friday) I came in with the mentality that I was going to win at all costs and I was going to get that point for our team.”

While the Cats’ Big Ten Tournament run may be over, their hopes for making the NCAA Championships are still alive.

“I think my first two years here we won three Big Ten matches, and this year we’ve won seven – eight including that last match against Penn State – so we’re making a lot of steps forward,” Wolf said. “This team is more competitive and closer together than we’ve ever had before, and we’re just looking to take steps in the right direction and preparing as if we’re going to make the NCAA tournament. Right now we’re on the bubble, so we’ll see.”

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