Men’s Tennis: Northwestern falls in semifinals of Big Ten tournament

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Men’s Tennis: Northwestern falls in semifinals of Big Ten tournament

Konrad Zieba readies a backhand return. The junior was defeated in his singles match in the Wildcats' loss to Illinois on Saturday.

Konrad Zieba readies a backhand return. The junior was defeated in his singles match in the Wildcats' loss to Illinois on Saturday.

Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

Konrad Zieba readies a backhand return. The junior was defeated in his singles match in the Wildcats' loss to Illinois on Saturday.

Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

Konrad Zieba readies a backhand return. The junior was defeated in his singles match in the Wildcats' loss to Illinois on Saturday.

Benjy Apelbaum, Reporter

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Men’s Tennis


Northwestern did not achieve its goal of winning a Big Ten title after losing a heartbreaking match to a familiar rival.

The No. 13 Wildcats went into the tournament as the No. 2 seed and earned a first-round bye before defeating seventh-seeded Purdue 4-1 to advance to the semifinals. Once there, NU played the No. 3 seed, and the No. 17 team in the nation, Illinois. This was the third time this year the teams faced off, and the Fighting Illini walked away a 4-3 win.

“We’ve probably played more complete matches in the past,” junior Strong Kirchheimer said. “I think continuing to go forward we’ll probably play some more complete matches.”

Although the Cats were unable to achieve their oft-stated goal of winning the Big Ten in either regular season or postseason play, they still have a chance to achieve one of their other goals — hosting an NCAA Tournament match.

The weekend began promisingly for the Cats when they picked up another victory over Purdue after defeating the Boilermakers 4-2 on the road just over a month ago. The match started with the team winning the doubles point. Then in singles play, Kirchheimer and junior Sam Shropshire easily defeated their opponents by scores of of 6-0, 6-1, and 6-1, 6-2, respectively.

After senior Fedor Baev lost at No. 4 singles, junior Alp Horoz secured the clinching point at No. 6 singles 6-4, 6-3 to put NU into the semifinals.

The Cats played Illinois the next day, an opponent they are very familiar with. NU lost the first matchup of the year at Illinois during the ITA Kickoff Event, 4-0, before beating the Fighting Illini for the first time since 1997 in a 4-3 heartstopper at home on March 12.

NU began the match by capturing the doubles point, as it had in its previous victory, thanks to wins by the teams of Shropshire and junior Konrad Zieba and Horoz and senior Mihir Kumar. The Cats were 23-0 when they had won the doubles point going into the match, but a strong singles performance from Illinois changed that.

Freshman Ben Vandixhorn had clinched the win against Illinois on March 12 in dramatic fashion and turned in another good performance with a 6-1, 7-5 win to give NU a 2-0 lead. Then No. 20 Zieba lost his third three-set match of the year to No. 4 Aleks Vukic. Baev proceeded to lose his third match of the year to Julian Childers.

No. 75 Kirchheimer put the Cats ahead 3-2 when he avenged his only loss in dual play this season with a three-set win over No. 71 Aron Hiltzik. However, NU could not find another victory to finish off the Fighting Illini as Shropshire and Horoz both lost close three-set matches.

Of the six singles matches played Saturday, four went to a third set and the Cats dropped three of them. Out of 18 singles matches played between NU and Illinois this season, 12 have gone to three sets with Illinois winning seven of 10 that were completed.

“Physically we’re prepared to play three-set matches, it’s just about maintaining your composure and focus throughout the third set to try to give yourself a chance to win,” coach Arvid Swan said.

Moving forward, the Cats have set the goal of advancing out of the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament and reaching the tournament’s final site.

NU will find out if it can maintain its ranking and who it will play in the NCAA Tournament on Tuesday.

“(We’ve gained) a lot of motivation, we’re very motivated to perform at a high level in NCAAs and to advance, make the final site, and advance as far as we can,” Swan said.

Email: benjaminapelbaum2019@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @benjyapelbaum

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