Men’s Tennis: Wildcats hope to finally topple Vanderbilt, end losing streak

Kevin Casey, Reporter

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Northwestern’s first three road tests of the dual meet season have all come against top-50 opponents, a traveling slate that no doubt produces a battle-tested mindset.

And the Wildcats will see more of the same this weekend.

On Sunday, the No. 29 Cats will make their initial trip east in the young season, heading out to Nashville, Tenn., to take on a strong Vanderbilt squad. The Commodores are currently No. 21 in the nation, down from a No. 15 mark last week. 

Of the four ranked teams thus far on NU’s schedule, Vanderbilt currently holds the second-highest standing. The Cats beat a similarly ranked opponent last week in Tulsa but subsequently fell to a top-10 foe in Oklahoma. 

One big difference between those two matches was NU’s performance in doubles. Against Tulsa, the Cats scored the opening point, affording them a cushion in singles play. With a loss in doubles versus Oklahoma, NU fell behind and gave themselves little margin for error in singles play.

Unsurprisingly, coach Arvid Swan has his squad focused on pouncing early, along with some other strategic moves on the offensive.

“We’ll be working a lot on doubles, because that will be an important point at Vanderbilt,” Swan said. “We’re also trying to play a little more aggressively in the important points. A lot of serve and return, so we serve well when we have the opportunities to finish sets or matches. First ball we serve and return and then first ball after that being aggressive.”

Vanderbilt is hardly a new test for NU. In the past three seasons, the two squads have faced off with all three matches ending in the same score: a 4-3 Commodores win. 

It’s been a pretty similar story each time too. In 2011 and 2012, the Cats did obtain the opening doubles point. On both occasions, NU’s No. 1 and No. 2 singles lost their contests, the difference in both matches. Last season, the Cats failed to capture the doubles point, and even an upset win by the team’s No. 1 was not enough, as a loss from the No. 2 was sufficient to prevent victory.

In essence, Vanderbilt’s ability to score two out of these three points has enabled their success. And the added importance of these points is unlikely to change in this year’s tilt.

NU has shown some nice depth, even with a young roster. The highly touted freshman class has fit in seamlessly, with Strong Kirchheimer standing out for his undefeated record in singles play from the No. 3-6 spots.

Kirchheimer has actually lost just one set in these five contests but is not getting complacent.

“It’s still early in the season; I haven’t played a lot of matches yet,” the freshman said. “We’re still trying to figure things out and just make sure we do what we need to.”

Still, it’s the doubles and the top end of these rosters that could mean the difference between three points or four for NU.

Vanderbilt boasts the No. 9 and No. 57 singles players in the nation in Gonzales Austin and Rhys Johnson, which should make matters difficult for NU.

Senior Raleigh Smith, who’s been present for all three of the Vanderbilt losses, knows well the pain of defeat to the Commodores.

As the team’s No. 1, Smith will likely need to step up if NU hopes to gain the inside track toward victory. His loss as the No. 2 last year against Vanderbilt proved fatal to the team’s chances, but a different result may be afoot this time around.

“We’ve been close every year,” Smith said. “Every year I’ve lost my singles match. Every year it’s been if I’d won my singles match, we would’ve beaten Vanderbilt. It’s been tough. Hopefully in the end we can turn the table and get four on the board at least this time.”

Email: kevincasey2015@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @KevinCasey19

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