Men’s Tennis: Northwestern looking to build off string of success

Senior Sidarth Balaji waits to return a serve. Balaji and the Wildcats will see their first action of 2013 on Sunday in a doubleheader.

Daily file photo by Susan Du

Senior Sidarth Balaji waits to return a serve. Balaji and the Wildcats will see their first action of 2013 on Sunday in a doubleheader.

Abbey Chase, Reporter

Coming into their 2013 season, the Wildcats are no longer the underdogs. After picking up only three Big Ten wins in their 2010 and 2011 seasons, Northwestern rewrote the script last year, tallying a 7-4 Big Ten record and a 15-11 overall record that included upset wins over Alabama and Minnesota, a season-high ranking of 42 and a berth into the NCAA tournament.

During competition this fall, NU posted some impressive results, backing up their success last spring and setting the stage for a new season, set to begin this Sunday.

“I thought we got better through the fall which is obviously the goal,” coach Arvid Swan said. “I think each of the guys from where they started, I thought they finished better in singles and doubles than where they started in the fall. … I thought as a team we really came together.”

At the Wildcat Invitational, the Cats won all but one match, with sophomore Alberto Zanotti going 3-0 in singles and doubles, pairing with senior Sidarth Balaji to go undefeated in doubles competition.

“Now I’m back fully healthy,” Balaji said. “That’s one thing that was really important for me coming in. Just giving 100 percent in practice on the court and off the court and just being a leader because we have two freshmen and two sophomores. I’ve just been trying to do the right things on the court and off the court.”

NU’s strongest performance during the fall came at the Big Ten Indoor Championships in November. Seven of the team’s eight players competed, with Raleigh Smith dominating the tournament, taking both the singles and doubles titles. Seeded fourth in the singles draw, the team’s lone junior dropped just two games in the final against Wisconsin’s Oskar Wikberg.

“I think I came out playing pretty good my first round and I just kept getting better every round,” Smith said. “It gives me a lot of confidence because I know what I’m capable of.”

In doubles, the unseeded duo of Smith and Balaji teamed up to take the title, upsetting the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds en route.

“I know he and I make a good team and complement each other,” Balaji said. “We know what the other is going to do in the doubles match and it gives us confidence. I have confidence in him and he has confidence in me, so going forward we want to build on that and set pace in doubles and bring that into singles.”

The Cats opened their 2012 season with a five-match winning streak, beginning with a dominant victory over Ball State 6-1 in their first match. They will meet the Cardinals again this Sunday to begin their 2013 campaign, followed by a match against Western Michigan in the first of the team’s five double-headers this season.

“These two teams have great coaches, they are very well prepared to play great doubles and they are very competitive,” Swan said. “They’re as good as Big Ten teams for sure so we expect tough matches.”