Men’s Tennis: Spirited comeback lifts Northwestern past Columbia for sixth straight win

Max Schuman, Reporter

It wasn’t exactly how coach Arvid Swan drew it up, but Saturday’s 4-3 comeback win over visiting No. 23 Columbia counts all the same for No. 16 Northwestern.

“Our backs were against the wall and we did a good job of raising the level of play,” he said. “We stressed to the guys to keep it up all the way through, and we did a good job of that.”

Down 3-1 to the Lions (6-3) with three matches to play, the Wildcats (12-5, 2-1 Big Ten) had no choice but to step up to snatch the victory, and freshman Logan Staggs, sophomore Strong Kirchheimer and junior Mihir Kumar seemed more than happy to do so.

The comeback started with Staggs. The freshman, seemingly unfazed after dropping his first set against Ashok Narayana, struck a balance between intensity and poise to fight back for a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory. Staggs is now 9-7 in singles play in his first dual season.

The point brought the Cats back within range of a victory, something that wouldn’t have been possible without the previous efforts of Kirchheimer. Facing No. 83 Dragos Ignat, Kirchheimer struggled in the first set but channeled his frustration into better performance as the match went on.

“I’ve worked at raising my game in the crucial moments,” he said. “I really focused on zoning in there.”

With a mixture of crushing forehands and control in long rallies, he won a tiebreaker in the second set to extend his match and another tiebreaker in the third to win the point for the Cats. Kirchheimer, the 107th-ranked player in the nation, has now won six straight matches for NU in the second spot and is 13-3 on the year.

During Kirchheimer’s final tiebreak, Kumar had a chance to close out his match against Bert Vencura but failed to do so, bringing the third set of his match to 5-5. From there the junior shined, making crucial plays to seal his match, 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, and secured the deciding point for NU.

The Cats’ intensity was clear from the start, as they came out loud and ferocious in doubles. It was Kumar and sophomore Alp Horoz, now on a nine-match winning streak in the third spot, who finished off a 6-3 victory over Ignat and Vencura that spotted the Cats an early point they ultimately needed.

The Lions came roaring back to start singles play, winning the first set in five of six matches and jumping out to a 3-1 edge. Sophomore No. 88 Sam Shropshire lost to No. 16 Winston Lin, snapping his five-match winning streak, while junior Fedor Baev ended his own five-match streak with a loss to Mike Vermeer.

But the Cats were able to turn things around by riding an energetic home crowd through the intense final matches. NU is now 8-1 at home on the season.

With the team setting its sights on breaking into the upper echelon of college tennis, NU’s first victory over a top-25 squad since the season’s opening weekend and sixth straight win overall is a sweet one.

And the comeback it required was all the more meaningful, according to Kumar.

“One of our toughest opponents this year, to have them in our house was a great opportunity,” he said. “The team’s in great spirits. It was a great team effort.”

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