Men’s Tennis: The Cats host Memphis, Vanderbilt and UIC in an unpredictable weekend


Daily file photo by Gabe Bider

Natan Spear celebrates after a point.

Alyce Brown, Assistant Audience Engagement Editor

Northwestern hosted a rollercoaster trio at Combe Tennis Center this weekend, looking to pad its resume against a cohort of Memphis, Vanderbilt, and UIC teams before Big Ten action commences in March. 

The Wildcats, who were ranked at No. 13 coming into the weekend, were coming off a three-win streak and in the midst of a steady rankings climb as the weekend kicked off. 

However, NU started off shaky. On Friday night against No. 42 Memphis, the Cats struggled to live up to their freshly minted top-15 ranking and seemed to trail the Tigers from start to finish. 

Memphis made relatively quick work in doubles, knocking off the No. 2 court of senior Natan Spear and graduate student Trice Pickens, 6-3, before clinching the doubles point at the No. 3 spot by downing sophomore Felix Nordby and junior Gleb Blekher, 6-4. 

Moving into singles, graduate student Ivan Yatsuk on Court 1 was the first to fall, going down in straight sets to 35th-ranked Tigers star Pablo Alemany. Memphis earned another by knocking down the Cats’ sophomore Max Bengtsson, a new face at the No. 6 slot that has recently been a rotating door for the squad, before NU fought back to put one on the scoreboard. 

With the score at 3-1, eyes turned to the remaining courts, all in third sets. It looked like NU  might be able to pull off a comeback after forcing thirds, but that dream came to a halt when Blekher lost his third set 7-5, painfully finishing the 4-1 win for the Tigers. 

Moving into Sunday, the Cats were ready to put it behind them and face down the 71st-ranked Vanderbilt.

The doubles matches featured many changes to a lineup that hasn’t seen many, with the 54th-ranked pair of graduate student Simen Bratholm and Yatsuk being split up for their first time this season. Bratholm lined up with Pickens at No. 2 and Yatsuk with Blekher at No. 1, with the No. 3 court being played by another new duo of Nordby and Spear. 

Despite the three new pairs, the Commodores picked up the doubles point and put the Wildcats in a comeback position heading into singles. 

And come back they did. Yatsuk made light work of Vanderbilt on Court 1, picking up NU’s first point of the match 6-3, 6-4. Pickens and Bratholm quickly followed suit, downing their opponents in straight sets to put the Cats up 3-1. 

The win was clinched by NU’s Blekher, finishing off the Cats’ 4-1 victory — one that came completely from singles matches in straight sets. 

The redemption arc didn’t end there. A few hours after its victory over the Commodores, NU took on the University of Illinois-Chicago. 

The remixed doubles pairs from earlier that day held the same spots against the Flames. Pickens and Bratholm dropped early to UIC, but Nordby and Spear quickly won their match and Blekher and Yatsuk broke the Flames in the final game to win 7-5 and take the doubles point. 

Entering singles 1-0, NU’s clearing of the Flames became a rather one-sided competition. Bratholm handled UIC’s Aleksa Bucan on the No. 2 court 6-1, 6-1 to put the Cats up 2-0, and Spear and Blekher quickly followed suit with straight sets wins to give NU the victory 4-0. 

After this weekend’s home court triple-header, the Cats improve to 9-4 overall and head out East next weekend to try their hand against the Ivy League.

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