Men’s Tennis: Wildcats come up short in Nashville

Kevin Casey, Reporter

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The past three times Northwestern and Vanderbilt faced off, the Wildcats battled a well-versed Commodores squad and came up one point short of victory.

The No. 29 Cats hoped to change the score Sunday afternoon when they took to action against the No. 21 Commodores in Nashville, and while the score changed, the result did not as NU fell 4-2.

A potentially gratifying end to a challenging early season slate slipped away early in the contest, as the Cats failed to score the doubles point.

NU secured the first doubles match 6-3 but dropped the second, by the same score, to the No. 2-ranked doubles team in the nation. The third and deciding contest gave sophomore Fedor Baev and freshman Strong Kirchheimer the responsibility to obtain the crucial opening point. 

The duo fell 6-4, staking Vanderbilt out to a 1-0 lead, a circumstance coach Arvid Swan lamented.

“It was tough,” Swan said. “We had a chance to win the doubles point. Obviously we lost very close. We split two of the doubles matches and we didn’t get the third. They’re a top-15, top-20 team and we still had a chance to win the match, but it certainly didn’t make anything easier.”

In spite of the deficit, NU started out strong in singles. Freshman Sam Shropshire cruised to a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Rhys Johnson, the 57th-ranked singles player in the country, to make it 1-1. 

Whatever hope the Cats gained from that result, though, was quickly eviscerated. The Commodores won the next two contests and, after Raleigh Smith secured NU’s second point with a three-set victory, Vanderbilt closed out the match with Jeffrey Offerdahl’s 5-6, 6-1, 6-3 win.

Mihir Kumar, who was one of the victims in singles play, chalked up the team’s struggles to simple luck of the draw.

“We didn’t play our best,” the sophomore said. “But I guess that happens. There are good days and bad days.”

At the very least, this was another chance for the inexperienced members of the squad to test their mettle against some of the nation’s best competition. Konrad Zieba has been intermittently placed in the No. 2 singles spot of the lineup, a designation he saw again on Sunday.

The freshman did fall 6-2, 6-4 to No. 9 Gonzales Austin but said he feels playing such competition is beneficial going forward.

“I’m honored to play at No. 2 as a freshman,” Zieba said. “It’s a lot of pressure because I know I’m going to be playing a lot of good players. But it’s a great opportunity and I’m just looking forward to what I have in the future.”

The Vanderbilt contest marked the end of a daunting three-game road slate against top-25 opponents. The Cats will return to Evanston on Friday to start a four-game homestand, which includes competition against just one top-25 opponent, Notre Dame. 

Coming off consecutive losses, Swan hopes his team can bounce back when they return to familiar surroundings. As he points out, his squad can definitely see major improvements.

“We simply can play better than we did in terms of finishing points, serve percentage, return percentage,” Swan said. “We’ll work on it in practice and be more sharp next match.”

Twitter: @KevinCasey19