Men’s Tennis: Northwestern takes two wins at home

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Daily file photo by Meghan White

Senior Chris Jackman plays a shot. The Wildcats won both their matches over the weekend.

Abbey Chase, Reporter

In their fourth doubleheader of the season, the Wildcats kept their undefeated streaks against Middle Tennessee State and University of Illinois-Chicago alive, and walked away adding two more wins to their season tally.

But it didn’t come easily.

Northwestern opened the day against MTSU, a team that gave NU a tough fight last year.

“We gave ourselves a chance to win, which was key,” coach Arvid Swan said. “We had some match points and we got it done but we can do a lot of things better. We can serve better, we can return better, finish at the net better. But they’re a good team and I think one of the strengths of their team is doubles.”

The Blue Raiders came out firing early, challenging the Cats in all three doubles matches. At the No. 1 spot, senior Sidarth Balaji and junior Raleigh Smith hung tough in a serving battle. Smith was eventually able to earn a break for NU with a backhand winner up the line to go up 7-5 before Balaji closed the match out on his serve.

With the first doubles win in their favor, the Cats found themselves down in the remaining two matches. While the No. 3 team traded breaks and eventually fell to MTSU 8-6, seniors Chris Jackman and Spencer Wolf dug themselves out of a onebreak deficit to bring the deciding match into a tiebreaker against a tough team featuring two players 6 feet 5 inches and taller.

Jackman served for the match with a mini-break lead at 6-4 in the breaker but huge serving from the Blue Raiders felled the Cats 8-7(6) to give the first point of the match to MTSU. 

“It was a good match,” Jackman said. “Spencer (Wolf) and I haven’t played since last year against Illinois so it was fun getting back and playing with Wolf. We had our chances and we didn’t execute but we came out strong against UIC so that was good.”

While the doubles point has been crucial for NU this season, the Cats wasted no time in making up for their losses on the singles court. Balaji quickly leveled the match with a 6-1, 6-3 win at the No. 3 position but the rest of his teammates had to struggle a bit more for their wins. 

Jackman fought back from a 6-2 first-set loss to take the final two sets 6-1, 6-2, giving NU a 2-1 lead in the match. 

“I got it done in the end,” Jackman said. “ But I have to focus on coming out strong in the first set because too many times I lay back on the belief that I can win in three sets, and I need to come out stronger.”

In a more competitive contest than the score line indicates, Smith took the No. 2 match from Victor Cornea 6-3, 6-4 to put the Cats within 1 point of the win. 

“He’s a tricky player because he’s a lefty and … they were one of the biggest teams I’ve ever seen,” Smith said. “Luckily I didn’t get the 6-foot-8-inch guy. I think my guy was around 6 feet 5 inches. Anytime you play a guy that’s tall, you assume that they’ll have a good serve and at least in my match I felt like he was pretty good off the forehand and backhand too.”

Another come-from-behind win, this time by Alex Pasareanu, gave NU the victory with the sophomore’s 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 win at the No. 5 spot. MTSU would go on to win the remaining two matches to bring the final score to 4-3 in the Cats’ favor. 

“We return well as team,” Swan said. “That’s certainly one of our strengths and they had some big guys who were serving well but we’re playing strength against strength and you hope that you can come out on top.”

The night match featured UIC and, as they have in all of their double-headers this season, the Cats took the second match of the day in decisive fashion.

Victories at the top two positions in doubles gave NU the 1-0 lead and after quick wins by Smith and freshmen Mihir Kumar in singles, Balaji sealed the sweep with a more closely contested 7-6(6), 6-1 win.

“In that second match, you’re always trying to make improvements from your first match,” Swan said. “I think that’s how the guys get better, playing in real competition against good teams. The second matches have helped us in terms of if someone didn’t perform well in the first match, then they can get into the second match right away to try to make some corrections.”