Men’s Tennis: Northwestern refuses to look past unranked Middle Tennessee State


Sean Su/Daily Senior Staffer

Mihir Kumar prepares for a back hand. The junior is searching for a measure of redemption in the wake of his struggles in previous years against Middle Tennessee State.

David Lee, Reporter

Men’s Tennis

No. 20 Northwestern hopes to continue its run of inspired play when it hosts Middle Tennessee State on Friday.

NU (7-5) has played the Blue Raiders (6-3) annually for the past six years and boasts an undefeated record in those bouts. But Middle Tennessee State has mostly provided difficult contests in this span. Last season, the Cats eked out a 4-3 victory when then-sophomore Fedor Baev won a second-set tiebreaker to seal the match.

The contest against the Blue Raiders is somewhat of a reprieve for the Cats, whose ridiculous strength of schedule has them as the No. 20 team in the nation despite a record barely over .500. This weekend will be the first one of the season where NU will be in competition and not facing a ranked opponent.

But coach Arvid Swan does not see the matchup as a cake walk.

“We play them pretty much every year, and they’re good,” Swan said. “(They have) two really good players at the top who can play with anyone in the country.”

Swan is referring to Middle Tennessee State’s senior duo of international stars, Ettore Zito from Sicily and Ben Davis from London.

Although the pair has had mixed success in doubles, with a losing record after five games, they have fared well in singles competition. Davis and Zito are a combined 8-5 going against other teams’ top players.

Davis has flashed the ability to compete at the highest level when he is on his game. He collected Conference USA Athlete of the Week honors after his performance against No. 23 South Carolina two weeks ago. Davis won at the No. 1 singles spot against the Gamecocks, collecting his team’s only point of the match.

“We have to get a really good week of practice in to make sure we’re ready to go against them,” sophomore Strong Kirchheimer said.

Junior Mihir Kumar has a score to settle against Middle Tennessee State — he has not been able to obtain a singles or doubles victory during his previous two matches against the squad. Although it hasn’t affected the bottom line, Kumar stressed the importance of individual leadership. He said he expects each player to step up and not overlook the seemingly easy opponent.

“We’re a very motivated team,” Kumar said. “I’m very hungry and I’m excited to play them. We’ve got to be ready to go. It would not be good if we had a let-up.”

It looks like Kumar might buck the trend of losing to the Blue Raiders this weekend, especially with doubles. Kumar and sophomore Alp Horoz have won their last six doubles matches, including an upset victory at Illinois last weekend. The duo also beat their opponents at Cornell even though NU could not score the doubles point. Kumar chalked up NU’s doubles loss at Cornell as just being “random.”

“(Horoz and I) play really well and kind of complement each other’s games,” Kumar said. “We’ve done a good job of getting up early, just the little things. I really think our doubles has taken a huge turn this year for the better.”

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