Men’s Tennis: Northwestern faces crucial Big Ten tests


Daily file photo by Leeks Lim

Sam Shropshire takes a forehand stroke at the ball. The junior has been mainly partnered with fellow junior Konrad Zieba in Northwestern’s critical doubles matches.

Benjy Apelbaum, Reporter

Men’s Tennis

Northwestern will face an early test on its road to a Big Ten championship this weekend.

The No. 13 Wildcats (17-2, 3-0 Big Ten) have a showdown at home with undefeated Wisconsin (13-1, 3-0) on Friday before they face Minnesota (6-11, 0-3) on Sunday.

NU and Wisconsin are two of the three remaining teams undefeated in Big Ten play and since each Big Ten team plays each other just once, the matchup could go a long way toward determining the eventual conference champion. Much like the Cats, the Badgers are off to their best start in school history and have risen to No. 30 in the ITA rankings.

“Every Big Ten match is critical,” coach Arvid Swan said. “When you’re trying to win a Big Ten Championship you can’t have a letdown; you’ve got to be focused every single match.”

The Cats have put themselves in a favorable position in the Big Ten standings by virtue of their 4-3 win over defending champion Illinois. Securing another win over a top-tier team like Wisconsin would put them in a tie at the top of the standings with No. 4 Ohio State, which is currently the highest ranked team in the conference.

To get by the Badgers, NU has to overcome its deep lineup, which does not feature any ranked singles players, but has managed to eek out four 4-3 victories on the season. The Cats will be helped by playing at home where they have not lost all year.

Despite its losing record, Minnesota is also a dangerous team that has played a number of close matches this season and was one of the regular season co-champions of the Big Ten last year.

One of the keys for NU this year has been winning the doubles point. The Cats have secured the point by winning 2-of-3 doubles sets in 16-of-19 matches this year and are undefeated in those 16.

Leading the charge in doubles for the Cats this season has been junior Strong Kirchheimer and senior Fedor Baev at No. 1 in doubles. Kirchheimer was named the Big Ten player of the week in part due to the duo’s 4-0 record in matches over Spring Break, including two wins over ranked teams.

“We haven’t really been doing that much different, I guess our games just finally clicked this weekend,” Baev said. “We both have been taking care of our serves really well and putting a lot of returns in play.”

The team of juniors Konrad Zieba and Sam Shropshire and that of junior Alp Horoz and senior Mihir Kumar have also compiled impressive records throughout the season.

In addition to the win over Illinois, the Cats won matches against Big Ten foes Purdue and Indiana last weekend. The 4-2 win against the Boilermakers was NU’s first conference road win of the season. As Big Ten play continues to heat up, this weekend’s pair of matches can prove if the Cats have staying power at the top of the standings.

“Hopefully we can keep that (success) going,” Kirchheimer said. “Everyone we play is going to be good going forward so hopefully we won’t have any lapses, but you never know. It’s a hard year, so we’ll try to stay focused moving forward.”

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