Men’s Tennis: Northwestern travels to Harvard this weekend for top-15 clash


Gabe Bider/The Daily Northwestern

Natan Spear (left) jumps to make a return as Trice Pickens watches. Spear and Pickens have only lost once as a duo in their last eight matches.

Nathan Ansell, Assistant Sports Editor

In the latest ITA team rankings, Northwestern made a massive jump to No. 14. It’ll have to prove it belongs there against the squad one spot above them.

The Wildcats (10-2, 0-0 Big Ten) will attempt to back their ranking up against No. 13 Harvard (7-2, 0-0 Big Ten) on Sunday. Each of the teams’ last three showdowns have been one-point affairs. The Crimson won 4-3 matches in 2018 and 2020, but NU claimed victory in 2019 by the same score.

“We certainly know that team from when we played them last, at least a majority of the players,” coach Arvid Swan said. “We’ll have a good game plan in mind.”

Swan will also need to rehabilitate the Cats before facing Harvard. By Sunday, NU will have gone two weeks without playing outside of practices, as its last two matches have been canceled.

Ensuring the healthy returns of some Cats affected by COVID-19 is a priority, too.

“I want to go and get a bunch of strokes going, into playing with movement on the court,” Swan said. “From there, playing some ground stroke points and then on to match pace. There’s a bit of a progression.”

In each of the three aforementioned matches, the team that won the doubles point went on to win the match. Harvard coach Andrew Rueb will defend his home courts with strong pairings on all three courts, including the 20th-ranked duo of Daniel Milavsky and Brian Shi.

The Crimson have won the doubles point in both of their home matches so far.

“(Rube) always has the team ready to play,” Swan said. “His team conducts itself in a first-class manner, as do Andrew and the coaching staff.”

Harvard’s singles lineup is potent as well. Shi came in at No. 30 in the individual rankings, and he’ll be playing alongside No. 20 Henry von der Schulenburg and No. 25 Harris Walker. None of them have lost a singles contest since January.

“(Walker) is really good when he’s the more offensive player, so you have to play aggressive enough against Harris to neutralize his offense,” Swan said. “Shi is a great ball striker, so those two guys play really good offensive tennis in different ways.”

The Crimson’s projected singles lineup will feature one player who wasn’t present in that 2020 victory: Milavsky. Swan praised Milavsky’s serve and variety of strokes, as well as the developments made since the start of his college career.

The contest will be broadcast on ESPN+, the first contest streamed on a national platform for NU in 2022. Despite the high-profile matchup, Swan said his team isn’t affected by the spotlight.

“The focus really is just on the play itself,” Swan said. “(We’re) not worrying too much about who’s watching.”

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Twitter: @nathanjansell

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