Men’s Tennis: Wildcats let victory slip away against Notre Dame

Senior+Raleigh+Smith%E2%80%99s+strong+play+couldn%E2%80%99t+keep+Northwestern+from+defeat+at+the+hands+of+Notre+Dame+on+Tuesday.+Smith+and+partner+Mihir+Kumar+were+the+only+Wildcats+doubles+pair+to+win+their+match%2C+and+Smith+accounted+for+NU%E2%80%99s+only+singles+victory.
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Men’s Tennis: Wildcats let victory slip away against Notre Dame

Senior Raleigh Smith’s strong play couldn’t keep Northwestern from defeat at the hands of Notre Dame on Tuesday. Smith and partner Mihir Kumar were the only Wildcats doubles pair to win their match, and Smith accounted for NU’s only singles victory.

Senior Raleigh Smith’s strong play couldn’t keep Northwestern from defeat at the hands of Notre Dame on Tuesday. Smith and partner Mihir Kumar were the only Wildcats doubles pair to win their match, and Smith accounted for NU’s only singles victory.

Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior Raleigh Smith’s strong play couldn’t keep Northwestern from defeat at the hands of Notre Dame on Tuesday. Smith and partner Mihir Kumar were the only Wildcats doubles pair to win their match, and Smith accounted for NU’s only singles victory.

Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior Raleigh Smith’s strong play couldn’t keep Northwestern from defeat at the hands of Notre Dame on Tuesday. Smith and partner Mihir Kumar were the only Wildcats doubles pair to win their match, and Smith accounted for NU’s only singles victory.

Kevin Casey, Reporter

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The Tuesday tilt between Northwestern and Notre Dame, a contest between two top-30 squads from the Midwest, promised to be a nail-biting battle between highly engaged foes. And the action didn’t disappoint.

At Combe Tennis Center Tuesday night, the No. 30 Wildcats fell in a bitter 4-1 loss to No. 16 Notre Dame. The score might have indicated a comfortable victory for the visitors, but that was hardly the case.

“The match was a lot tighter than 4-1 for sure,” senior Raleigh Smith said. “Definitely a couple points here and there and we come away with the win.”

The back-and-forth battle started in doubles.

The Cats’ streak of 23 consecutive points won at home this season came to an end with that opening point, but only after a massive rally from the Fighting Irish.

All three doubles contests went to tiebreakers, with the first two being split. The final contest, which included Strong Kirchheimer and Fedor Baev, proved to be the decider in doubles.

The Kirchheimer-Baev duo looked to be a lock to win the match, up 40-15 with a 5-4 lead. Needing just one successful volley to win, the pair instead surrendered three consecutive set points and fell into a tiebreaker. Kirchheimer and Baev took two of the first three points in the tiebreaker but then lost six in a row to lose their doubles competition and hand Notre Dame the initial point.

Predictably, Kirchheimer was not pleased with the effort.

“There’s not a lot to say,” the freshman said. “They came up on the big points when we didn’t. We’re still a very good team, and we’ve got a lot of big things ahead of us. This is going to sting.”

But with six singles points up for grabs, the Cats still had a chance for redemption. They took advantage early on, pouncing on the Fighting Irish in those crucial first sets. NU led in four of the six contests after the opening set, putting the team in line to win the match despite the doubles folly.

Smith was especially impressive. Facing off with Greg Andrews, the 37th-ranked singles player in the country, the No. 111 senior won three break points and vanquished his higher-ranked foe, 6-4, 6-4.

The key for Smith was pouncing on Andrews early in each game.

“It was important to get up in the return game,” Smith said. “I had to get in the first point, get it to 30-all. I lost a couple deuce points when he was serving, but I just stayed with it, trying to get that first point and trying to get those 30-all games.”

It proved to be one of the Cats’ only success stories. The team fell down 3-0, with Smith’s victory giving the Cats their only point of the evening. Freshman Alp Horoz’s match turned the tables, with his first-set victory slipping away into a 6-5 , 3-6, 0-6 defeat.

More disturbingly, three of NU’s players lost sets in which they had previously been up three games or more. Kirchheimer was up 3-0 in his second set before losing in a tiebreaker, and sophomore Mihir Kumar was up 4-0 and lost his set as well. Freshman Sam Shropshire fought off an opening-set loss and was up 5-2 in his second set in a match the Cats could have used, but, amazingly, Shropshire’s opponent rallied to take the set and the match.

“We let a few points get away,” coach Arvid Swan said. “If you’re up a break, obviously we need to convert and we need to win sets and win matches. It’s something we’ve got to work on. We’ve got to focus on extending a lead, not protecting the lead. So, it’s kind of a different shift in mentality.”

The defeat was the Cats’ first at home this season, but Swan believes the performance could be a stepping stone for later matches.

“Notre Dame is a team similar to Vanderbilt and our performance was better,” Swan said. “But still we can get a lot better, a lot better mentally, a lot better in terms of execution, doubles, singles. This is a bit of a starting point for us, and we just got to keep getting better for the next match.”

E-mail: kevincasey2015@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @KevinCasey19

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