Men’s Tennis: Northwestern slips past Arizona State after North Carolina loss


Gabe Bider/The Daily Northwestern

Steven Forman at the apex of his serve. Forman is 5-0 in singles results this season.

Nathan Ansell, Assistant Sports Editor

Northwestern split two matches against North Carolina and Arizona State at the ITA Kickoff Weekend.

The Wildcats (5-2, 0-0 Big Ten) were immediately forced to adapt to the No. 17 Tar Heels’ (2-1, 0-0 ACC) faster courts. The hosts came out of the gate strong in doubles, as coach Arvid Swan’s team struggled to keep up with the unfamiliar speeds.

“At the beginning, it was hard to get a rhythm. We started off a little bad, down a break,” freshman Felix Nordby said. “That followed through the whole set in doubles.”

Armed with a top-20 pairing and consistency across all three courts, North Carolina took the doubles point with multiple breaks on both of the top two courts.

The Tar Heels carried over the energy into singles, winning five first sets and eventually recording three straight-sets victories to complete the shutout. One bright spot for NU was the season debut of sophomore Presley Thieneman, who led in a third set when the match was called.

“He split sets with a very good player there,” Swan said. “He makes a big difference for us, and (we’re) really happy to have him contribute and be back playing.”

Senior Steven Forman had the unenviable task of facing No. 60 Brian Cernoch, an experienced athlete with a vicious serve and forehand. In a rare left-handed battle, Cernoch and Forman ended the match knotted at 1-1 in the third set.

Forman said he found some similarities to his game in his opponent’s skill set.

“It takes a higher level to be able to complete a straight-sets win, which I wasn’t able to do,” Forman said. “But it’s always good to play the best players you can.”

The defeat meant NU would face Arizona State (1-4, 0-0 Pac-12) the next day. Although the Sun Devils just missed the latest Top 25 Coaches Poll, they entered the event as the overall 20th seed.

Doubles was a close affair. Senior Trice Pickens and junior Natan Spear emerged victorious at No. 3, but it wasn’t enough; Forman and Nordby were edged out 7-5, and Arizona State captured a decisive tiebreak on the remaining court.

“Instead of being result-oriented, we just wanted to improve how we played in doubles,” Swan said. “The energy was really good, we had chances to win. It didn’t go our way.”

In singles, the Cats rebounded well. According to Nordby, the faster courts incentivized NU to adjust, aiming for high first-serve percentages and favoring forehands.

Thieneman posted his first-ever singles loss in team play, but NU came roaring back with wins at the top two courts. Forman overcame a 1-4 first set deficit to post a 7-5, 6-1 victory, and senior No. 104 Simen Bratholm took down a ranked opponent with aggressive play.

“(Bratholm) was coming forward with effectiveness,” Swan said. “He returned well and made his opponent play on his serve, which was critical in terms of applying pressure.”

Forman and Bratholm were then able to cheer on Nordby, who said the encouragement brought him additional energy. Nordby played a back-and-forth first set, winning a crucial tiebreak at the end.

Then, he decisively took the second set to tie the match at 3-3.

“I just tried not to lose my mind,” Nordby said. “Hit through the ball, but not too close to the line, and then wait for the short ball or if he would try to go for an insane shot.”

The match boiled down to No. 92 Trice Pickens. Pickens’ contest was the only one to reach three sets, but the senior came up clutch to wrap up a 4-3 victory for the Cats.

Next week, NU will return home to a three-match slate against Princeton, Duke and Illinois-Chicago.

“We’ve played them often, and we’re going to be ready for good matches,” Forman said. “I’m just trying to learn from what happened this week, positives and the negatives.”

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Twitter: @nathanjansell

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