Men’s Tennis: On the road, Northwestern prevails against two Big Ten opponents


Daily file photo by Gabe Bider

Trice Pickens hits a forehand on the run. Pickens was unstoppable in singles, dropping just six games across two straight-sets victories.

Nathan Ansell, Senior Staffer

Men’s Tennis

It wasn’t easy. Then again, Big Ten matches away from Evanston aren’t usually easy.

Coach Arvid Swan and Northwestern (15-7, 4-2 Big Ten) needed contributions from across the lineup to defeat Wisconsin (9-9, 3-2 Big Ten) and Nebraska (6-14, 2-3 Big Ten) over the weekend.

“They’re quite experienced in their lineup,” Swan said. “They’re solid, one through six.”

The Wildcats took the court against the Badgers first. Wisconsin entered Friday’s match with an undefeated home record and a veteran-heavy roster, playing three seniors and no freshmen.

But experience alone couldn’t save the Badgers in doubles. NU started strong on all three courts, as the No. 58 pairing of senior Steven Forman and freshman Felix Nordby took a 6-3 win. Senior Trice Pickens and junior Natan Spear clinched the point right after.

“When we’re serving at 5-4, it’s good to know who you are as a team, how you’re going to play, and then just execute,” Pickens said.

Singles went the Cats’ way too. No. 114 Pickens claimed eight straight games in his 6-3, 6-0 victory against Wisconsin’s Gabriel Huber. Solving Huber’s service patterns enabled Pickens’ return game to shine and breaks to follow. No. 36 Forman required a tiebreak to win his first set but handily took the second to put NU up 3-0.

Pickens, who lost both of his singles matches the weekend before, was fired up about the quick finishes.

“Leading up to (last) weekend, I was feeling pretty sick, so I didn’t have super high expectations,” Pickens said. “This weekend, I just forgot about it and went about my business.”

Graduate student Brian Berdusco couldn’t recover after losing his first set, but sophomore Presley Thieneman locked up the match for the Cats by defeating Sebastian Vile. No. 94 Simen Bratholm shook off a first set underperformance in his showdown, as the senior defeated Lenard Soha 5-7, 6-3, 6-2. Despite finding a late break, Nordby couldn’t close his singles contest, finalizing the score as a 5-2 win for NU.

On Sunday, the weather was nice enough that the match against the Cornhuskers could be played outdoors. Swan’s squad used a Saturday practice session to acclimate themselves with the courts, but both teams had to adjust to swirling winds.

Nebraska was a much fiercer opponent in doubles. Bratholm and Berdusco lost to Nebraska’s only ranked doubles pairing, and Pickens and Spear fell shortly after.

“Both of (their serves) were a little different,” Berdusco said. “It was really windy, and they were able to cover the middle pretty well.”

In singles, the Cats erased the deficit quickly. Forman overpowered the Cornhuskers’ Dario Huber 6-1, 6-1 before Pickens and Thieneman turned in similarly one-sided results for a 3-1 overall lead.

Thieneman’s win was his fourth consecutive straight-sets victory.

“He’s serving at a high level right now and (making) very few unforced errors at the baseline,” Swan said. “He’s not missing a lot but still playing aggressive tennis.”

As the rest of the matches reached third sets, Nebraska roared back. Nordby ran out of momentum, and Bratholm’s comeback effort came up short this time. The Cornhuskers had leveled the match at 3-3.

The spotlight was on Berdusco and Nebraska’s William Gleason to decide the match. Berdusco found multiple breaks to establish a 5-1 lead in the decisive set and held on for a 6-3, 6-7 (8-6), 6-3 victory as NU took a 4-3 nailbiter.

“I was just trying to stay calm and focus on the right things,” Berdusco said. “Keep attacking and stay consistent.”

The results were crucial for the Cats, who look to make an Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings push after falling out of the top 25 last week.

NU will host Illinois State (8-14, 2-2 Missouri Valley) Wednesday before Saturday’s rivalry match against Illinois (9-13, 2-4 Big Ten).

“We’ll have a good practice Tuesday, a competitive effort against Illinois, and then get ready for a good opportunity at Champaign,” Swan said.

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Twitter: @nathanjansell

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