Men’s Tennis: Northwestern takes on Louisville, returns for home opener against Illinois


Daily file photo by Brian Lee

Senior Raleigh Smith, who has never beaten Illinois, serves. The Fighting Illini have three singles players ranked in the nation’s top 33 and the No. 4-ranked doubles squad.

Kevin Casey, Reporter

The Wildcats will once again test their competitive limits when they face off against two top-40 squads in three days.

This weekend, Northwestern’s schedule takes the team to Kentucky, where the No. 23 Wildcats (10-4) will take on No. 38 Louisville (7-2), a team that jumped 10 spots in the rankings this week. 

NU itself has climbed in the rankings as well, moving up a half dozen spots from its previous mark of 29. Such an upward trend follows a three-match stretch last week in which the Cats won twice, including a victory over No. 24 North Carolina State. They only lost after enduring a decisive tiebreaker that went No. 30 Harvard’s way.

Needless to say, NU will be playing with confidence in the Bluegrass State. Confidence, though, does not mean the road squad expects an easy time against the Cardinals.

“Louisville is a tough environment to play in, and we’ve got to be ready for a quality opponent,” coach Arvid Swan said. “They always get a lot of people out for the match, so it will be a tough match.”
Despite a return home two days later, NU’s Sunday match may prove even more difficult – and by a wide margin. Illinois (6-4) will make its way into the Combe Tennis Center, waltzing in sporting a No. 7 national ranking.  
It will be the Cats’ first conference match and home opener and a potential rude awakening to open Big Ten play.
As senior Raleigh Smith noted, the recent history in the matchup is pretty bleak for NU and deserves a change in narrative.

“We’ve played them five times since I’ve been here, and we’ve gone 0-5,” Smith said. “It’s obviously a match we want to win.”

So what is the tale of the tape for the two opponents? Louisville and Illinois turn out to be very different squads. The Cardinals, despite their relatively high team ranking, don’t boast any of the top 125 singles players or top 60 doubles squads in the country.

The Fighting Illini, on the other hand, practically flood the top spots. A trio of Illinois players, Jared Hiltzik, Farris Gosea and Tim Kopinski, all appear in the top 33. The visitors boast the No. 4 and No. 45 doubles squads in the nation.

NU sits between its two opponents, with Smith and freshman Sam Shropshire at the No. 44 and No. 85 singles, respectively, and the duo of Smith and sophomore Mihir Kumar at No. 21 in doubles. 

Despite Smith and Kumar’s presence, doubles has been an uneven venture for the Cats in the past 14 matches. NU holds a middling 8-6 record in that area. 

But freshman Strong Kirchheimer feels progress is on the horizon.

“We’re just starting to find ourselves in doubles,” Kirchheimer said. “We’re getting better each day. We practice a lot of doubles. Things will work out with it pretty soon.”

Last season, the Cats fell from No. 18 at the beginning of Big Ten play and ended at No . 36 after posting an unfulfilling 6-5 record. 

Can the Cats avoid such a dip this time around?

For Swan, it depends if his squad continues to build toward its full talent.

“We’ve been a little up and down, but we’ve made progress from the beginning of the year until now,” Swan said. “We still need to play a complete match. Sometimes we play better in doubles and worse in singles or better in singles or worse in doubles. So everybody on the team is focusing on playing complete matches going forward, and that’s what we need to do. We’re not a finished product yet, but I feel like we’re closer than we were in the beginning of the year.”

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