Men’s Tennis: Northwestern drops second round match of NCAA Tournament, ends historic season


Keshia Johnson/The Daily Northwestern

Konrad Zieba reaches down for the ball. Zieba’s singles match was the last to finish Sunday against Stanford, but the junior fell in three sets.

Benjy Apelbaum, Reporter

Men’s Tennis

Northwestern’s highly successful season ended prematurely in a disappointing Round of 32 NCAA Tournament match Sunday.

The No. 14 seed Wildcats hosted the weekend’s matches that began with a 4-1 win over Valparaiso, before the team’s season ended with a thrilling 4-3 decision to Stanford.

“I’m really proud of our team,” coach Arvid Swan said. “We’ll let this one sting a little bit, but we’ll be back next year ready to go.”

A competitive yet unranked Valparaiso team gave NU a tough match Saturday. After the Cats won the doubles point, junior Sam Shropshire recorded a win before senior Fedor Baev recorded NU’s only loss of the day. Freshman Ben Vandixhorn put NU into the Round of 32 with a three-set victory.

Shropshire said advancing to the second round was significant for him.

“(The win) definitely means a lot, we were just talking in the locker room about how we haven’t (gotten to the second round) many times in history,” Shropshire said after Saturday’s win.

Stanford’s 4-1 win over Notre Dame on Saturday set up Sunday’s showdown between the No. 14 and No. 29 teams in the country.

Unlike the matches Saturday, Sunday’s match was played outside in chilly and breezy conditions.

The contest began with a dramatic doubles point that NU managed to eke out. After splitting the matches at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles, the team of junior Strong Kirchheimer and Baev failed to convert their chance to hold serve to win the point. However, the duo managed to break back and win the set 7-5.

Winning the doubles point has usually been a good sign for the Cats as they were 24-1 this season after securing the initial point.

In singles play, the results were mixed as both teams won three first sets. The victors and losers of the first singles matches to finish were familiar as Kirchheimer won his 14th straight and 30th overall match of the season. Baev lost his sixth consecutive match by the score of 6-3, 6-2, while Vandixhorn’s second set rally fell short at No. 5 singles where he lost 6-1, 7-5.

As the tension mounted and occasionally boiled over in disputes with the umpires, sophomore Alp Horoz gave up a second set lead to lose in straight sets and Shropshire played a gutsy second set to level the overall match at 3-3.

“(Shropshire’s) been an elite player since he arrived on campus and he keeps improving his game,” Swan said. “We expect him to win and he wins.”

That left the match up to the No. 1 singles court in a face-off between junior Konrad Zieba and Stanford’s Tom Fawcett, both ranked top 20 in the nation.

Zieba started sloppily and fell behind 5-1 in the first set, but rallied to win six straight games and the set 7-5. After being shut out in the second set, a full house at the Vandy Christie Tennis Center watched the season-deciding third set. Zieba fell behind 4-1, but managed to rally back and hold off a number of match points before falling 6-4.

“(Fawcett) is a great kid and a great player,” Swan said. “Konrad and Tom are two of the best players in college tennis and it could have gone either way.”

Sunday’s match was the last in the careers of seniors Mihir Kumar and Baev, who both appeared emotional after the disappointing match. This year’s team had the best record in program history, but it will have the difficult marks against them of not winning the Big Ten and getting upset before advancing to the final site of the NCAA Tournament.

Looking forward, the Cats had three players, Zieba, Shropshire and Kirchheimer, qualify for the NCAA Singles Tournament, which begins May 25.

“We didn’t make the final site this year, but if you look at our record and the teams we’ve beat, we’ve got a good team,” Swan said. “(I) feel real excited about what the future holds for our program.”

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