Men’s Tennis: Northwestern prepares for start of Big Ten play, No. 6 Illinois


Daily file photo by David Lee

Michael Lorenzini follows through on a forehand. The junior and the Wildcats open conference play this weekend.

Benjy Apelbaum, Assistant Sports Editor

Men’s Tennis

The last time Northwestern played Illinois at home, Ben Vandixhorn cemented himself firmly in Wildcat history.

The junior said NU will be looking to rekindle the magic of its 4-3 win in 2016 over then-No. 8 Illinois against the now-No. 6 Fighting Illini (9-4) on Friday.

“Last time we played them at home was probably one the most fun times I’ve had in my career at Northwestern,” Vandixhorn said. “We had a massive crowd, and we were able to beat them for the first time in a long time.”

Vandixhorn fought off a match point before he won the deciding match and secured the first NU win over Illinois in 27 straight tries.

In addition to kicking off Big Ten play against the Fighting Illini, the Cats (4-8) will also face Indiana (8-6) and Illinois-Chicago (2-5) on Sunday.

Junior Jason Seidman said the team views conference play as a fresh start after it began the campaign in disappointing fashion.

“Obviously we didn’t have as great of a start as we would have liked,” Seidman said. “Basically, we’re thinking of it as a new season, and we’re just going to go in and try to compete well.”

Although the match against Illinois presents the bigger opportunity to move into the rankings, the contest against the Hoosiers is arguably a more important barometer for NU as it will likely be a closer match. Indiana has a better record than the Cats, but the Hoosiers have played a weaker schedule, with only three matches coming against top-25 teams, compared to seven such opponents for NU.

The Flames have an unimpressive schedule and record thus far and will likely be outgunned by the Cats.

Last week, NU was out of action for the first time since the season began in mid-January. Seidman said the break gave the team more time to practice and improve its fitness.

“This week’s been pretty good because instead of resting we’ve probably been playing more, doing more conditioning and fitness, so I think we’re in better shape overall,” Seidman said.

That extra fitness may be needed as the Cats have lately had trouble closing out matches. They are coming off two 4-3 losses in their last weekend of competition and have lost three matches by that score this season with no wins.

Though NU has had disappointing results against a tough schedule so far, it only has three top-25 opponents left on the schedule. The Cats will have to play better to emerge from a clump of teams just outside of the nation’s best.

“Our team’s goal is to dominate conference play,” freshman A.J. Joshi said. “We had a rough start, and we’ve all accept that. We can’t really look at the past now, we got to look forward and see what we can do in conference play.”

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