Men’s Tennis: Northwestern defeats Illinois State in convincing fashion


Daily file photo by Gabe Bider

Natan Spear attempts a serve. Spear won his doubles set alongside Gleb Blekher in their first match as a partnership.

Nathan Ansell, Senior Staffer

Men’s Tennis

Illinois State failed to pose a threat to coach Arvid Swan’s squad Wednesday.

Northwestern (16-7, 4-2 Big Ten) controlled its match against the Redbirds (8-15, 2-2 Missouri Valley) from start to finish, earning its third consecutive victory. The Wildcats never dropped a set, starting with a one-sided doubles point and riding that momentum through the end of the match.

Swan went with the usual No. 1 and No. 2 pairings in doubles, but tried a new partnership of sophomore Gleb Blekher and junior Natan Spear at No. 3. The pair displayed immediate chemistry, clinching the opening point and closing out a 6-2 win.

“With (Blekher’s) volley, coming forward and finishing points at the net, I thought he did a great job,” Swan said. “Natan, his partner, was really good as well on all facets.”

In singles, sophomore Presley Thieneman stayed red-hot. Thieneman set the tone for the match, continuing his consistent play from the baseline and rarely squandering points en route to a 6-1, 6-0 victory, his fifth straight-sets win in a row.

Thieneman’s showdown concluded before some other courts finished their first sets.

“He’s playing big enough to dictate play,” Swan said. “His opponents are usually running a lot in the course of the match.”

At the top court, senior Steven Forman turned in another stellar performance. Forman, ranked No. 30 nationally in singles, earned his team-leading 16th individual victory to extend NU’s lead.

Senior Simen Bratholm secured the crucial fourth point for the Cats, dominating his first set and ensuring the overall victory. Freshman Felix Nordby, who bageled his opponent in the first set, found a break at 5-5 in the second set to avoid a tiebreak.

“He didn’t play that well in the first set, and I took control early — two-love, three-love and I kept the momentum going,” Nordby said. “He raised his level in the second set, and I maintained mine, maybe dropped a little, so that resulted in a 7-5 and not (another) bagel.”

Senior Trice Pickens leaped out to a 5-2 lead in the first set, eventually prevailing in a tiebreak. After that, however, his game started to stall.

Pickens changed his strategy, winning four consecutive games to emerge victorious.

“I was playing dumb in the beginning of that set,” Pickens said. “He was really good off his backhand. It was a hard shot to attack, but when I started trying to target his forehand a little more, it wasn’t quite as solid.”

Graduate student Brian Berdusco’s contest finished last. Berdusco, who clinched last weekend’s win over Nebraska, didn’t need three sets this time — he saved multiple set points in the first set and then took over, completing the sweep.

Swan said he was satisfied with the level of team play.

“We wanted to play a good doubles set, high quality doubles, and then we wanted to win in straight sets (for) all the singles matches,” Swan said. “That was the goal, and we did that.”

Following the 7-0 result, Swan and NU turn their attention to Saturday’s match against Illinois (9-13, 2-4 Big Ten). In 22 total head-to-heads against the Fighting Illini, the Cats have only won once, a close match in 2016.

The last time the teams met, Pickens’ match was the last to finish as Illinois escaped Evanston with a 4-3 win.

“If I need to draw on some extra motivation at some point, maybe I’ll think back to that,” Pickens said. “But I think my game plan will be to just treat it like any other match and try to keep my nose to the grindstone.”

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Twitter: @nathanjansell

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