Men’s Tennis: Wildcats turn in strong performances to finish out regular season

Alex Lederman, Reporter

No. 35 Northwestern served up a pair of 7-0 sweeps over Big Ten rivals this weekend in their final matches of the regular season.

First, the Wildcats (19-9, 7-4 Big Ten) cruised to victory Friday over Wisconsin (9-14, 1-9) before capping off the weekend with a dominating Senior Day performance against Minnesota (11-12, 5-6) on Sunday. The Cats have now won seven straight, by a combined score of 41-6.

NU honored its lone senior, captain Raleigh Smith, before and after the match Sunday, and No. 58 Smith pulled out a 7-6, 0-6, 7-6 nailbiter over Minnesota’s Leandro Toledo in Smith’s final home match. Smith battled back from match point to complete the sweep for NU.

“I can’t say enough good things about Raleigh Smith and what he’s meant to the program,” coach Arvid Swan said. “Raleigh is one of the best players to ever play at Northwestern. He is an incredibly competitive kid, someone who has improved a tremendous amount from his freshman year to his senior year. He’s our captain, and I wanted him to win that match because I love that kid. I love Raleigh Smith and our team loves Raleigh Smith.”

Smith said it’s hard to say goodbye.

“I can’t really comprehend the fact that I’m not going to play another match again here,” he said. “My mom just asked me if I was sad, and I said, ‘Why would I be sad? I just won.’”

Smith wasn’t the only Wildcat to have a good weekend though — NU looked great across the board.

The doubles teams again came out ready to play. After struggling early in the season, the Cats have now won six doubles points from their past seven opportunities.

Although the 33rd-ranked duo of Smith and sophomore Mihir Kumar dropped its Friday match 8-4, both the No. 2 and No. 3 pairs picked up the slack to give the Cats the 1-0 lead.

Sophomore Fedor Baev and freshman Strong Kirchheimer extended their undefeated streak to five, with four wins, to snag the No. 3 doubles. The new No. 2 duo of freshman Sam Shropshire and junior Alex Pasareanu clinched the point for NU.

The Cats scored another victory in doubles against Minnesota. Baev and Kirchheimer extended their unbeaten streak further, but Shropshire and Pasareanu fell in their second match together. This time, Smith and Kumar secured the Cats the doubles victor.

Coach Swan has tested different combinations at the No. 2 doubles all year, including Shropshire and freshman Konrad Zieba and Shropshire and freshman Alp Horoz, but with impressive performances this weekend and the Big Ten Tournament a week away, Swan may have finally found his winning combo in Shropshire and Pasareanu.

“Both guys play traditional doubles and both guys serve big,” Swan said. “So I think they complement each other really well.”

In singles, it was all Cats. On Friday, Smith, Zieba, Kumar, Kirchheimer and Pasareanu dominated in straight sets, and after dropping an early tiebreaker, No. 112 Shropshire rebounded to win in three sets.

Sunday was a similar story.

Shropshire, Kirchheimer and Pasareanu continued churning out the wins, each breezing to straight-set victories.
Shropshire’s win streak, as well as Kircheimer’s, reached 11 heading into conference championships.

Kumar, Zieba and Smith each pulled out three setters, with Smith fighting off match points to win the tiebreaker.

NU next heads to East Lansing, Mich., for the Big Ten Tournament April 24-27.

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