Men’s Tennis: Wildcats drop two of three during busy weekend

Alex Putterman, Reporter

After a sterling 8-1 start to their season, the Wildcats suffered their first disappointing weekend of the season, losing two of three over two busy days in Evanston.

First, on Friday, No. 33 Northwestern (9-3) faced No. 40 Vanderbilt, losing 4-3 in a close match not without silver linings. Although the Cats lost two of three doubles matches, senior Sidarth Balaji and junior Raleigh Smith, playing their second match as NU’s top doubles team, won 8-5.

Despite losing half of their singles matches to the Commodores, NU’s singles victories came at three of the top four spots. Senior Spencer Wolf, playing in the Cats’ top slot as he has for most of the season, produced his best result of 2013, upsetting No. 20 Gonzales Austin 6-3, 1-6, 6-4.

Balaji and sophomore Alex Pasareanu also won, prevailing in straight sets. The Cats led 3-2 after Wolf’s victory, but Smith fell 6-4, 6-4, and with the score tied 3-3 and his match the only one ongoing, senior Chris Jackman lost a close second set to close a 6-3, 7-5 loss. A team with a displayed propensity for close victories had dropped its first nail-biter, and NU wasn’t done with heartbreak for the weekend.

The next day, NU hosted a double header, facing No. 47 Harvard (3-3) in the morning and Valparaiso (4-2) in the evening.

After losing two tiebreakers to drop the doubles point, the Cats pounced on the Crimson early in singles. Balaji promptly dispensed his opponent 6-2, 6-2, and freshman Mihir Kumar followed suit, winning 6-2, 6-0. When Smith finished off a 7-5, 6-2 victory, NU led 3-1, with all three remaining matches up for grabs and heading to a third set. The Cats needed to win only one of the matches for the team win.

They didn’t.

Jackman lost 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 then Pasareanu fell 4-6, 7-5, 6-4. The match would be decided in the top position, with the previous day’s bright spot, Wolf, facing Harvard’s Denis Nguyen to decide the meet’s victor. When the final ball bounced, Wolf had been downed 5-7, 6-1, 7-5 and NU had its second straight loss. The Cats are now 1-6 all-time against the Crimson.

Hours later, Valparaiso provided a perfect bounce-back opportunity, and the Cats wasted little time in seizing it. NU’s newly-shuffled doubles pairs dominated the Crusaders. Kumar and Pasareanu won 8-1, Jackman and Smith 8-4 and Wolf and Balaji led 5-4 when their match was abandoned.

Singles was similarly lopsided, as Jackman cruised 6-0, 6-1 and Balaji and Kumar each won 6-2, 6-2 to clinch team victory for the Cats.

Although the match’s outcome was decided within two hours of its commencement, the teams played out what would end 7-0 in favor of NU. Pasareanu and Smith quickly closed out their second sets, making five of the Cats’ six singles players straight-set winners, as only Wolf needed a third set to secure victory. The blowout was NU’s third shutout win of the dual-meet season.

After climbing to their highest ranking in nine years following their hot start, the Cats losses to two lower-ranked teams will likely hurt them in the polls. NU reached No. 33 after beginning the season pegged 41st.

The Cats will next face Middle Tennessee State and University of Illinois-Chicago on Feb. 17.