Men’s Tennis: Tough battle and blowout keep Wildcats’ undefeated streak alive

Freshman Fedor Baev completes a return during his singles match. The Wildcats defeated No. 34 Louisville and swept Chicago State on Sunday afternoon.

Daily file photo by Melody Song

Freshman Fedor Baev completes a return during his singles match. The Wildcats defeated No. 34 Louisville and swept Chicago State on Sunday afternoon.

Abbey Chase, Reporter

The Wildcats improved to a perfect 4-0 following a Sunday double-header that featured two very different matches: a gritty battle and a sound beating.

“The double-headers help because you’re just getting more match play,” coach Arvid Swan said. “The more you play, the more you put yourself in different situations and that always helps with the more experience that you have within a dual match situation.”

Northwestern first faced Louisville, a difficult foe for the Cats in past years and ranked seven spots ahead of NU at No.  34. 

A slow start in doubles had the Cats trailing at the No. 1 and 2 positions. The youngest duo, sophomore Alex Pasareanu and freshman Mihir Kumar, took it to their opponents early and posted the first win of the day for NU with an 8-3 victory at the No. 3 position. 

“I just knew that we had to come in with a lot of energy and if we were going to be nervous and tight, we were going to lose anyway,” Pasareanu said. “So I just said, ‘You know what, let’s just stay relaxed, let’s just be positive and (let) good things happen.’”

After the Cardinals took the No. 1 match 8-6, junior Raleigh Smith and senior Sidarth Balaji found themselves in the deciding doubles match. 

“We were struggling making a lot of first serves and it’s hard to win in doubles when you don’t make first serves,” Smith said. “In all our matches, it seems like we’ve been down a break. Once we realized we had to do it, we just focused in a little bit more.”

Down 3-6, the Cats turned the match around, fighting back from a double-break deficit. A return winner from Smith to end the 12th game brought NU back into the match at 6-6 and with the momentum in their favor, the Cats completed the victory, winning five games in a row to get the 8-6 win. 

“We were down and then I thought they returned well at the end of the match and then played a bit more aggressively in their service games,” Swan said. “We started slow in that match and we were fortunate to turn it around.”

Senior Chris Jackman brought the match score to 2-0 with a quick 6-2, 6-1 win followed by fellow senior Spencer Wolf, who defeated No. 82 Sebastian Stiefelmeyer at the No.1 position in a deceptively competitive 6-4, 6-2 match. 

Within one match of the upset, the Cats came up against a determined Louisville team, who pushed the three remaining matches to a deciding set, having won the No. 6 match. After taking a tight first set, Smith was forced to go the distance, dropping the second 6-4, while Pasareanu fought back to level the match at a set apiece after losing the first in a tiebreak. 

“I was looking at the score and I was thinking that I was maybe going to be the guy to clinch it and maybe I got a little too excited and the guy started playing better,” Smith said. “Once we split, I realized I needed to win my match. (I thought,) ‘I don’t know if Sid (Balaji)’s going to win, I don’t know who else I can rely on. I can only focus on my court.’”

With the final three matches going the distance, it was Balaji who clinched it with his 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 win at the No. 3 position. 

In their second match of the day, NU took on Chicago State, with singles starting off the evening rather than doubles play. A dominant showing earned the Cats an easy victory in less than an hour, surrendering only 11 games in six matches. 

NU will face another tough challenge heading to South Bend, Ind., on Tuesday to meet Notre Dame. Ranked 30th, the Fighting Irish have a losing lifetime record against the Cats, trailing 37-40, but they have defeated NU the last nine years.

“We beat Louisville, who we haven’t beat in a while, so I guess that gives us confidence, but we didn’t need to beat Louisville to understand that we could compete and beat Notre Dame,” Smith said. “I think we just need to step up. We can obviously play a lot better than we did. I think if we do play well, we’ll give ourselves a really good chance to win.”