Women’s Tennis: Northwestern kicks off Big Ten slate with home meet against Illinois

Alex Putterman, Reporter

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Conference play has arrived for No. 8 Northwestern (6-4), and the Wildcats face an immediate challenge.

NU’s Big Ten season begins Saturday at Evanston’s Combe Tennis Center against No. 33 Illinois (6-4), winners of four straight.

The Fighting Illini started the dual meet season 2-4, losing to every ranked team they played, but have been much better since. Their current winning streak has included victories over No. 62 Georgia State and No. 36 Oklahoma, in addition to Furman and Syracuse.

Illinois boasts the nation’s No. 22 doubles pair, Rachael White and Melissa Kopinski who will face the Cats’ top duo, No. 8 Nida Hamilton and Linda Abu Mushrefova. In singles, Kopinski, the Illini’s only ranked singles player at 120th nationally, is expected to meet NU’s No. 55 Kate Turvy at the top spot.

The Cats are 45-7 all-time against Illinois and are currently riding an 11-game winning streak over the Illini dating back to 2004. In 2012, NU defeated No. 45 Illinois 5-2 in Champaign, and in 2011 the Cats defeated the Illini twice, including in the Big Ten Tournament.

NU and Illinois have shared three common opponents in 2013. Against those teams — Vanderbilt, Miami and Notre Dame — the Cats are 2-1, its loss coming to Vanderbilt on Jan. 31., while Illinois is 0-3. Most dramatically, The Illini fell 7-0 to Miami on Jan. 13, while the Cats  defeated the Hurricanes on Feb. 10.

The Cats improved one spot to No. 8 in the ITA rankings this week, the third straight week their ranking has increased. Last weekend, NU split a pair of matches against highly-ranked foes from the Lone Star State, falling 5-2 to No. 14 Texas before beating No. 19 Baylor 4-1 two days later. The Cats have now won three of their last four meets after a 3-3 start.

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