Men’s Tennis: Northwestern drops first Big Ten match, bounces back at Cornell

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Daily file photo by Brian Lee

Strong Kirchheimer sets up a forehand. The sophomore has compiled an 8-3 record in singles play thus far this season.

Max Schuman, Reporter

The gauntlet of opponents carried on, and Northwestern came out of it with an even split.

The beginning of Big Ten play was not kind to the Wildcats, as No. 26 NU (7-5, 0-1 Big Ten) fell 5-2 to a strong No. 6 Illinois (9-2, 2-0) squad in Urbana on Friday, before rounding out the weekend with a 4-2 road victory Sunday over a nonconference foe in No. 64 Cornell.

Singles play hurt NU in Friday’s match, with the Fighting Illini, who fielded four top-70 nationally-ranked singles players, winning five of six singles matches. The Cats took the doubles point and secured a 2-1 lead after a straight-sets singles victory by sophomore Alp Horoz, but Illinois’ top four singles swept their matches to set the final margin.

NU proceeded to rebound against the Big Red on Sunday behind the strength of its own singles play. After stumbling out of the gate to drop the doubles point, the Cats refocused and won four singles matches to clinch the victory over Cornell.

Coach Arvid Swan tied the strong finish to the weekend to his team’s ambition.

“I’m fortunate to coach a very highly motivated team,” he said. “The guys were excited to get back on the court after the loss.”

Especially encouraging for the Cats was the rebound of their top two, sophomores Sam Shropshire and Strong Kirchheimer. The nationally ranked duo — Shropshire is 96th nationally as a singles player, while Kirchheimer checks in at 64th — faced quality opponents against Illinois but weren’t able to come up with crucial singles victories for the team. Shropshire fell to No. 23 Jared Hiltzik, 6-2, 1-6, 7-5 and Kirchheimer lost in straight sets to No. 37 Tim Kopinski, 6-1, 6-3.

“(Kopinski) was a tough player, and I didn’t come out quite the way I needed to there,” Kirchheimer said.

The duo turned things around against Cornell in the next match, though, with both taking straight-set wins over their singles opponents.

Elsewhere on the squad, freshman Logan Staggs lost both of his singles matches on the weekend in straight sets at the third spot. Staggs, who won the Big Ten Athlete of the Week award two weeks ago, continued an up-and-down first season for NU and sits at 5-6 in singles this season.

In addition, the doubles pairing of Horoz and junior Mihir Kumar won both of their doubles matches this weekend. The duo, which is 7-1 on the season and has won in six straight matches, is proving to be a rock for the team in the third doubles spot.

Although NU opened with a conference loss, junior Fedor Baev said the team is ready for the looming challenge of Big Ten play.

“Illinois is one of the better teams we’ll face, but that’s the level we want to be at,” he said. “We know that every team in the Big Ten is a quality team, and no match is going to be easy.”

Email: [email protected]n.edu