Men’s Tennis: Northwestern finishes homestand with easier slate

David Lee, Assistant Sports Editor

Men’s Tennis

The Wildcats will finish their five-game homestand with contests against No. 45 Boise State, No. 30 Harvard and Valparaiso this weekend.

Although Northwestern (3-4) still has a tough slate, especially with the Broncos (2-2) and the Crimson (3-1), it’s the closest thing to a reprieve the team has seen so far this season. The Cats sport a seemingly disappointing sub-.500 record, but they have already faced five top-30 squads.

Their actual level of play might be much higher than their record suggests.

“We were four or five games away from beating (Duke),” junior Mihir Kumar said. “Notre Dame, we’re four or five points from beating them, so even though they’re losses we can take confidence in those matches.”

The Fighting Irish were able to edge past NU 4-3, needing a doubles set tiebreaker and a three-set thriller in the first singles spot for the victory. Sophomore Sam Shropshire was on the losing end of both brutally close defeats.

“They’re definitely tough losses, and there are things to learn from both of them,” Shropshire said. “So I think bouncing back won’t be too difficult for us.”

But Shropshire will have to do more than bounce back if he wants to beat his opponents this weekend. Shropshire has had his ups and downs already this season. He began the season ranked No. 78 in singles, but is currently unranked there. He seemed to find his stride defeating Duke’s No. 36 Jason Tahir even though it wasn’t enough to give NU the win. This weekend he will most likely play Harvard’s No. 57 Denis Nguyen, another challenge for NU’s rising star.

“Sam Shropshire is one of the best players in the country,” coach Arvid Swan said. “So, he can beat anybody in college tennis. Sam’s got three tough matches ahead of him but he’s ready to go.”

NU will try to stifle Boise State’s momentum as it arrives in Evanston hot off a comeback victory against No. 47 Pepperdine. Valparaiso (3-0) is riding a run of its own, still undefeated so far in the season. Its schedule has not rivaled the strength of NU’s, but the Crusaders are motivated as ever to continue their streak.

“I think it’s important for us that we don’t underestimate these teams,” Kumar said. “We have to learn to win. We haven’t been able to win those matches that we’ve been in position to finish, so this is a good opportunity for us to finish those matches.”

NU has also experienced a recent resurgence in doubles play. After losing their first three doubles points, the Cats have won four of their last five. They have experimented throughout the season with different combinations of players but seem to have settled on their current lineup: Strong Kirchheimer/Fedor Baev, Shropshire/Alex Pasareanu and Kumar/Alp Horoz. These pairings have looked smooth and comfortable playing with each other and give the Cats an effective doubles attack.

“The fit is better. We’re playing much more aggressive,” Swan said about the current doubles pairings. “We’re calling more aggressive plays. We play a lot better doubles when we’re the ones who are dictating play, and we’ll try to continue that this coming weekend.”

The Cats have a lot to build with, but also a lot to work on if they want to achieve their upside as NCAA championship contenders. They have the talent to do so, but they must continue to practice and improve. This weekend is going to be another barometer of success toward that objective.

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