Men’s Tennis: Wildcats disappointed to drop two weekend matches

Kevin Casey, Reporter

If the Wildcats pondered the loftiness brought by this week’s jump into the top-25, it was likely a fleeting thought.

For just the second time this season, Northwestern dropped consecutive contests, falling 5-2 at No. 38 Louisville on Friday and suffering a 4-1 loss against No. 7 Illinois at home two days later. Considering the caliber of the opponents, No. 23 NU may stay in the top-25 in the new rankings.

But whatever the case, the Cats dropped to 10-6 for the season and certainly know such poor play can’t continue. Especially NU’s effort against the Cardinals.

Coach Arvid Swan accounted for Louisville’s significant home-court advantage in preparing for this matchup. What he didn’t see coming was the collapse of the lower part of the singles lineup.

The road squad started off the contest with a loss in doubles but held an advantage in singles. At the top, NU had No. 44 Raleigh Smith and No. 85 Sam Shropshire, while Louisville trotted out two unranked foes. Predictably, the Cats capitalized, with both Smith and Shropshire registering points.

Needing just two points from its lower four singles, NU came up with zero. The Cats No. 3-6 singles all lost, in straight sets no less.

With that, NU went from a potential victory to a 5-2 loss. Mihir Kumar, the No. 3 singles on the squad, did not mince words about his performance in the loss.

“We just didn’t play our best, and that starts with me,” the sophomore said. “I have to do better, and all of those guys know that we have to do better. They played well and at their place it’s always hard, but that was on us. We had to do better.”

The Cats had a chance to redeem themselves with a return trip home two days later, even if wasn’t exactly against a rebound opponent.

NU opened up its Big Ten play on Sunday at the Combe Tennis Center, welcoming No. 7 Illinois to the premises.

And the in-state rival was prepared from the start. The two squads battled out a tight opening doubles point, but Illinois ended up capturing the point, pushing the Cats to 8-8 in that area for the season.

The Fighting Illini then dug in further, securing the first two singles contests to take a commanding 3-0 lead. Illinois eventually won 4-1 when Ross Guignon defeated Kumar 7-6, 7-5.

Though the score may have described a comfortable victory, the Cats were actually just a couple of games away from making this a nail-biting contest.

“We were right there,” Shropshire said. “If we could have squeaked one of those matches out, we were up on the other three courts.”

These were still what-ifs for the Cats, though, and the team can’t deal in those when it comes to Big Ten play.

Illinois may be the second best team in the conference, but NU did fail its first test in a Big Ten stocked with talented squads.

The results this weekend may not have been the team’s most promising this season, but Swan is optimistic about his team’s potential.

“We can play with anybody,” Swan said. “It’s about continuing to build and improve as a team, but we’re confident that we can play with anybody in the conference.”

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