Men’s Tennis: Northwestern faces its hardest task yet in ITA Kickoff Weekend


Gabe Bider/The Daily Northwestern

Brian Berdusco produces a volley at the net during warmups. Berdusco has made four appearances for the Cats this season.

Nathan Ansell, Assistant Sports Editor

Northwestern was able to take down Louisville last week, but its next Atlantic Coast Conference foe might prove to be more fearsome.

The Wildcats (4-1, 0-0 Big Ten) have their work cut out for them against No. 17 North Carolina (1-0, 0-0 ACC), one of the bracket hosts at this year’s Intercollegiate Tennis Association Kickoff Weekend. The Tar Heels swept NU at last year’s iteration of the same event.

“We know UNC pretty well,” coach Arvid Swan said. “We’re going to have to come out and play a complete match, we’re going to have to play outstanding doubles.”

In doubles, North Carolina returns half of the competitors that took the doubles point against the Cats last year, but still has a top 20 pairing who qualified for the ITA Fall National Championship.

North Carolina’s singles lineup is led by No. 60 Brian Cernoch, who notched a 6-2, 6-3 individual victory against NU last year. All six Tar Heels won their individual singles matches in two sets last week against Bucknell.

Cernoch, playing at No. 1, recorded a 6-0, 6-0 shutout.

“He’s really solid from the baseline, good serve, really good forehand, good lefty,” Swan said. “I’ve got a great deal of respect for him as a player and competitor.”

The Cats will be playing away from Evanston for the first time this year, after travel cancellations forced an earlier road match against North Carolina State to be rescheduled. It’s the first time that NU has played their first five matches at home since the 2016-17 season.

Swan emphasized the importance of a good practice on Friday to get the Cats used to the unfamiliar court speed and formidable doubles challenge.

“I’m definitely progressing, improving my volleys, trying to serve and volley more,” sophomore Saiprakash Goli said after last weekend’s matches. “Just trying to play more doubles, (work on) my doubles strategy.”

If NU can emerge victorious on Saturday, it’ll take on the winner of No. 5 Ohio State and Arizona State. The Cats lost twice to the Buckeyes last season, but haven’t faced the Sun Devils since 2008.

The winner of that match will advance to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) National Team Indoor Championships in February.

“(Assistant coach) Chris (Klingemann) and I have a focus on the other teams, but we’ve really tried to focus with the players on our own games,” Swan said.

The coaches have been drilling baseline technique and filling doubles gaps as much as possible, two of Swan’s biggest takeaways from last weekend’s matches. In singles, Swan noted that each player had different areas to improve upon, but he was happy with the progress across the board.

Fans will be allowed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, so the team has also been sharpening their concentration, demeanor and mindset in both practice and match situations.

“I think we have a good chance, but they’re definitely good,” Goli said. “I’m looking forward (to) that match.”

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Twitter: @NathanJAnsell

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