Men’s Tennis: Northwestern struggles in loss to LSU

Abbey Chase

Since Big Ten play began in early March, the Wildcats have rewritten the script from their previous two seasons, fighting their way through a tough conference schedule to earn themselves a place in the NCAA Championships.

Northwestern’s storybook season came to a close Saturday with a 4-0 loss to Louisiana State in the first round.

“It was a great experience,” said junior Sidarth Balaji about his first trip to the NCAA tournament. “Going in I didn’t really know what to expect and the few days leading up (to the match), we got in some good days of practice. It was kind of different than what I expected, but hopefully we learn from it and try to make the tournament again next year.”

In their first trip to the tournament since 2009, the Cats were facing a Tigers team, who came into the match ranked 23rd and holding a 14-10 overall record which included wins over then-No. 12 Texas A&M and then-No. 9 Florida.

“I thought we played a little bit nervous in doubles, but in singles the guys fought really hard and stayed really positive,” coach Arvid Swan said. “We were playing a good team in LSU and they played well and didn’t give us many chances. Had we played that match out, it could have been 5-2, maybe even 4-3 match but unfortunately, they put up four points on the board before we could get any points.”

The Tigers jumped out to an early lead with a sweep in doubles play. Playing at the No. 1 position, LSU’s Neal Skupski and Chris Simpson, ranked No. 24 nationally, quickly took out senior Josh Graves and junior Spencer Wolf 8-1 to give the Tigers an early lead in doubles competition.

Despite Saturday’s loss, Graves and Wolf walk away from the season with a 12-8 overall record, including a win over the No. 1 doubles team Blaz Rola and Chase Buchanan from Ohio State.

LSU secured the 1-0 lead after sophomore Raleigh Smith and freshman Alex Pasareanu dropped their seventh match of the season overall at the No. 2 position, falling 8-4.

On the singles court, Wolf and Smith fell in straight sets to give the Tigers a quick 3-0 lead, but the Cats continued to put up a fight on the other four courts.

After dropping the first set, Balaji fought back to take the second 6-3 and even the match while Pasareanu and junior Chris Jackman took the first set in their respective matches.

“I actually played well in that match,” Balaji said. “There were a couple of close games early on, but then I picked it up a little bit and started playing better. It was actually one of the better matches I’ve played all year.”

After a tough fight back in the second set, Balaji could not hold on and dropped the final set 6-2, giving LSU the fourth and deciding point of the match.

“In the third set, it was just a couple of games, couple of points here and there that could have gone either way but my opponent played well and he was very consistent,” Balaji said.

The sweep in the first round of the NCAA Championships is hardly indicative of the Cats season as a whole. After winning just three Big Ten matches in the previous two years, NU found another gear this season, posting a 7-4 record in conference play and earning at least one point in each of its losses.

“I thought we really came together as a team,” Swan said. “I think the guys supported each other really well and that actually made a big difference. We faced some adversity in the beginning and the middle of the season with some injuries and I was really proud of how the guys responded in the Big Ten season.”

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