Men’s Tennis: Northwestern splits home matches, Smith scores upset win

Abbey Chase, Reporter

Playing at home for the first time in a month, Northwestern continued its push through the Big Ten schedule, taking on Penn State and Ohio State in two competitive and dramatic matches.

“I was pretty pleased with Friday as well as (Sunday),” coach Arvid Swan said. “I thought we returned a bit better on (Sunday), but we were playing outside so there’s more time. If we can just keep making incremental progress, I think we’re going to have good doubles next weekend and through the end of the year.”

The Wildcats finally reversed their fortune in doubles Friday night, besting the Nittany Lions in two of the three matches to get on the board first. 

Singles play started steadily for NU, as Penn State did not go away. Senior Sidarth Balaji eventually made a breakthrough in the first set and ran away with his match, and his teammates followed close behind. Sophomore Alex Pasareanu  and freshman Mihir Kumar wrapped up their respective matches shortly thereafter, with Kumar dropping just two games along the way. 

Although the duel was decided in NU’s favor, the night’s hardest fought match came after Kumar had clinched the victory.

At the No. 2 spot, junior Raleigh Smith locked in a battle against Tomas Hanzlik. Although most of his teammates completed the better part of their second sets, Smith fought to break Hanzlik in a marathon ninth game in the first set, eventually taking the set 6-3 in a game that lasted more than 20 minutes. 

Hanzlik eventually pushed the match to a 10-point super tiebreaker, where he bested Smith, who had held two match points, 3-6, 7-6(6), 11-9. 

NU finally saw the sun Sunday, squaring off against Ohio State outside in Evanston for the first time this season. Although the Cats were swept in doubles, the three teams of two traded breaks with the Buckeyes in three competitive matches before the country’s No. 5 team pulled away at the end.

“You have to give them credit,” Swan said. “They’re an exceptionally good team. … You have to play aggressively when you have chances to win a game. I think just in those critical moments, I think we could have played a bit more aggressively.”

After two quick singles losses, high-energy play in the remaining four matches kept NU’s hopes alive before Ohio State wrapped up the match at the No. 6 spot. 

Although he did not walk away with a win, Kumar hung tough in his first match against the Buckeyes and saved three match points before falling to No. 84 Devin McCarthy 6-3, 6-4.

“That’s one thing we talk about a lot — how I need to keep high energy even when I’m down,” Kumar said. “Being positive and being loud, it makes me play so much better, and I’m more aggressive. Everything just flows better in my game when I do that and I think it helps the team a lot, too.”

The final match of the day once again came down to Smith, who was fighting to get the Cats on the board.

“It’s kind of tough playing when the match is already clinched either way, especially after a loss,” Smith said. “Obviously I wish it had come down to my match or we had already clinched the victory but it’s always nice to win, especially against a good player like him.”

Contending against nationally ranked No. 6 Peter Kobelt, the highest-ranked singles player in the Big Ten, and a rowdy display from Ohio State spectators, Smith gritted his way to a 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 upset win, bringing the final match score to 6-1. 

“It’s definitely fun,” Smith said. “Ohio State always brings their guys that aren’t playing. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’d rather more fans than not enough.”