Coming off an up-and-down weekend, No. 28 Northwestern (1-1) heads to Norman, Oklahoma, hoping to secure victory against Arkansas and a second team to be announced.
The Wildcats know they can’t be lethargic out of the gate if they hope to build on last week’s results. The new NCAA tennis rules, aimed at making games more fast-paced and entertaining, have altered the Cats’ game time mindset.
“It’s definitely a big change,” said junior Mihir Kumar, who lost both of his doubles matches to open the season. “One thing we talked about is how doubles is like 20 minutes now and it’s over. So you go as hard as you can for 20 minutes, but you have to go even harder.”
NU faces No. 58 Arkansas (4-1) on Saturday. The Razorbacks’ only loss is to No. 9 Texas, a 5-2 defeat that was closer than the score indicated, with three matches going to a third set and two others having tiebreakers.
NU’s coach Arvid Swan praised what Arkansas head coach Andy Jackson has done to improve the team.
“I think they will be a top-25 team by the end of the year,” Swan said. “They are coached by a legendary coach.”
The Cats’ second match of the weekend will be Sunday against No. 2 Oklahoma or No. 56 New Mexico, depending on the outcome of the Sooners-Lobos matchup and NU’s bout with the Razorbacks.
The Sooners, in particular, present a challenge, as they advanced to the NCAA championship game last year. They will also be the highest-ranked opponent the Cats have played so far this season.
Swan said it didn’t matter much who NU played, as the Cats have information on all squads and any tactical adjustments are less important than general team improvement.
Beginning strong appears to be paramount for the Cats. Swan noted that starting quickly, not only during the course of each match, but also during the course of every single point, would be important to victory.
“We have to be better early in the point,” Swan said. “We need to make a higher percentage of first serves, we need to have a higher percentage of returns, and we need more first volleys. That’ll be the key.”
Freshman Logan Staggs also emphasized taking control of the beginning of the game.
“To bring energy I need to get off to a good start,” Staggs said. “If I can really get into a good rhythm in the first game, if I can just stay the course. I’ll play my game and I don’t lose focus, then we’ll have a good chance.”
Last weekend, Staggs lost 6-1, 6-2 to NC State’s Austin Powell before winning by the same margin against Vanderbilt’s Rhys Johnson.
But the team’s lone freshman said he gained a lot from his first two matches of the season.
“I think I’ve learned how to approach these matches,” Staggs said. “The first one, he came to play and I was impatient when he remained calm. Sunday, I kind of came back to Earth and started to play how I play and I think the results showed.”
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