Men’s Tennis: Wildcats season closes with Zieba loss at Indoor Championships

Garrett Jochnau, Reporter

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Men’s Tennis

Northwestern’s fall season wrapped up Sunday, with junior Konrad Zieba’s run at the National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships cut short in the second round.

Zieba, who was the lone member of the Wildcats selected to play in the exclusive tournament, was defeated 6-3, 6-4 by top-seeded Thai-Son Kwiatkowski in the Round of 16. Kwiatkowski, a junior from Virginia, handed Zieba both of his fall losses, previously dispatching the NU junior in October’s All-American Championships.

“I played the same guy in the All-American tournament three weeks ago, and he’s a really good server. So obviously it’s tough to break him,” Zieba said. “I didn’t serve as well as I could have, and that was the difference.”

Zieba later noted that his serve would be among his primary focuses in practice as the regular season approaches.

Both players qualified for the Indoor Championships after impressing at the All-Americans, with Zieba making an improbable run to the quarterfinals and Kwiatkowski finishing the tournament on top.

Prior to facing Kwiatkowski in the Round of 16 this weekend, Zieba upset Auburn’s Max Hinnisdaels, ranked No. 107 in the country.

Zieba won the opening match handily, rebounding from an early break in both sets to advance.

The junior is the first NU player in a while to qualify for the national tournament, which serves as the culmination of the fall college season. Coach Arvid Swan — who noted prior to the tournament that his goal was to have annual representatives from NU going forward — was impressed by Zieba’s performance.

“I thought he did a really good job representing our school in a major tournament,” Swan said. “Again, (it was) the second (tournament) in a row that he did that, so overall I’m just pleased where he’s at. I think he has clearly established himself as one of the best players in college tennis.”

Despite the second-round exit, Zieba also impressed himself.

“I was definitely pleased with winning a match,” he said. “Everyone in the tournament is one of the best players in the country, so winning one match is pretty solid. I was pleased with the outcome.”

With no college tournaments left to play before NU kicks off its regular-season campaign on Jan. 17 with a Louisville-Chicago State doubleheader, the Cats’ focus now shifts entirely to preparation.

Last year, the Cats finished fourth in the Big Ten, with then-sophomores Sam Shropshire and Strong Kirchheimer leading the team to a 21-10 overall record. Though both players played above Zieba last year, Swan — who won’t finalize a lineup until the season begins — foresees all three juniors collectively rounding out the top of the singles rotation.

“Well I think all three of those guys could play (first singles),” Swan said. “We’re just going to have to go match-to-match to figure it out. Obviously all three guys have put up good results. Whatever position we put those guys in, they’ll have a great chance to succeed.”

Throughout the fall, the team has made it clear it plans to contend for a Big Ten title.

After a fall campaign that saw impressive play from Zieba, Shropshire, Kirchheimer and freshman Ben Vandixhorn, the Cats’ optimism appears legitimate.

“I’m pleased with how the fall went, not just for me but for my other teammates,” Zieba said. “I’m excited to see what we’re going to do in January.”

This story was updated to clarify the round which Zieba advances to.

Twitter: @GarrettJochnau