Men’s Tennis: Pickens’ consistency and Forman’s heroics ensure three-match sweep


Daily file photo by Gabe Bider

Trice Pickens attempts a forehand return. Pickens was 3-0 in singles, including a win against a top 40-ranked opponent.

Nathan Ansell, Assistant Sports Editor

If a handful of shots had landed differently, Northwestern men’s tennis might have had a very different weekend.

The Wildcats (8-2, 0-0 Big Ten) faced three opponents in a three-day stretch of matches, two of which came down to the wire. Strong doubles play proved vital on both Friday and Sunday.

“(Our) guys have worked really hard and been dedicated over the last few weeks, trying to improve doubles,” coach Arvid Swan said. “Good to see the hard work paying off.”

NU’s doubles point against Princeton (2-3, 0-0 Ivy League) was decided by slight margins. Senior Trice Pickens and junior Natan Spear easily claimed a 6-2 set at No. 3, but a 6-4 loss at No. 1 put the spotlight on freshman Felix Nordby and senior Steven Forman.

The duo played the final game with ice in their veins, taking the set 6-4 to deliver the Cats the match’s first overall point.

“I’m so proud of them for their (doubles) effort,” Swan said. “It was critical.”

NU extended their lead early on in singles. No. 104 Simen Bratholm put a 6-4, 6-3 victory on the board against No. 26 Karl Poling to extend the Cats’ advantage. Poling, a former Ivy League Rookie of the Year, was the highest-ranked singles opponent that the senior had ever defeated in a dual.

Forman played a perfect second-set tiebreak to defeat the Tigers’ Ryan Seggerman, giving NU a 3-0 lead. Seggerman’s serve, the most impressive part of his arsenal, was completely nullified down the stretch. After Princeton registered their first point of the evening at No. 4, Pickens, ranked No. 92 in the country, pulled off a stylish return to end the third set and put the overall match beyond reach.

As it turned out, the Cats needed all three singles wins. The Tigers played out and won the remaining two singles contests, but fell short by a final score of 4-3.

“Simen served great, played super aggressively,” Swan said. “Building on the results he had at Arizona State, that was a big win for us and gave us momentum early in the match.”

Doubles against Duke (3-2, 0-0 ACC) on Sunday was similarly even as Swan varied the lineup order. Bratholm and graduate student Brian Berdusco defeated a nationally ranked duo in No. 39 Andrew Zhang and Michael Heller, their first win as a pairing in team competition. The No. 37 team of Garrett Johns and Sean Sculley bested Nordby and Forman, but Pickens and Spear came through in another tiebreak for another important doubles point.

The Blue Devils and Cats both took early singles points — Duke’s Connor Krug leveled the score by defeating sophomore Presley Thieneman, but NU retaliated with Pickens’ convincing 6-4, 6-1 win over No. 38 Faris Khan.

Berdusco followed up his first doubles win in purple with his first in singles, controlling a tiebreak and cruising through his second set for a 7-6 (7-1), 6-1 triumph. In a strange set of circumstances, one of the chair umpires was moving between Berdusco’s court and a neighboring one throughout the showdown.

“It was hard to stay calm when I thought there were some tight calls on the other side. Luckily, in the tiebreaker, the umpire went up in the chair,” Berdusco said. “Then I was able to focus on my game and not worry about what was happening on the other side.”

Duke, however, looked poised to come back, leading 5-2 in the third set on all three remaining courts. Nordby couldn’t prevent some impactful breaks and Bratholm’s late surge wasn’t enough to dig him out of a hole.

The Cats turned to Forman to save the day against Johns. Forman saved multiple match points on his own serve to set up a thrilling climax to the match, prevailing in yet another tiebreak to capture a 6-7 (0-7), 6-1, 7-6 result.

“It’s just unbelievable,” Forman said. “It’s always great to make it worth it, not have those great performances like Trice and Brian go to waste.”

Later that evening, Swan’s squad welcomed Illinois-Chicago (1-5, 0-0 Horizon League) to the Combe Tennis Center for their second match of the day. NU extinguished the Flames right away, riding a 6-0 from Forman and Nordby and a 6-1 from Bratholm and Berdusco to earn the doubles point.

Singles was just as lopsided. All six Cats were heavily leading as play was halted — Forman and Pickens clinched the match on the top two courts, but Berdusco’s dominance on the far-left court was the cherry on top to the tune of a 6-0, 6-0 victory.

“When I wasn’t playing, I couldn’t do anything except for keep practicing hard, hoping I would get a chance,” Berdusco said. “I got a chance today, and I was able to play well and execute.”

Next up for NU: a road trip to face Oregon (3-1, 0-0 Pac-12) and Notre Dame (4-1). The Cats won’t play another match in Evanston for over a month.

NU has their work cut out for them ahead of the flight to Eugene, Ore.

“Every match is a little different,” Forman said. “You can’t take too much from individual matches with different conditions and different players.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @NathanJAnsell

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