Men’s Tennis: Wildcats conquer Nebraska, Wisconsin and Illinois State, extend blazing win streak


Daily file photo by Ziye Wang

Senior Presley Thieneman holds his racket.

Alyce Brown, Audience Engagement Editor

No. 23 Northwestern appears to be heating up at just the right time.

It’s been a busy few days at Combe Tennis Center, where the Wildcats (18-7, 6-1 Big Ten) took down No. 45 Nebraska, No. 51 Wisconsin and Illinois State in a three-day sweep, picking up crucial conference wins and extending a red-hot eight-game streak.

First up for the weekend was Nebraska on Friday evening.

NU stumbled out of the gates in doubles. Nebraska broke the duo of graduate student Trice Pickens and senior Natan Spear in their final game to take that match 6-3, and then replicated on Court 1 en route to the doubles point.

Needing four points from singles, the Cats continued to struggle against a Nebraska squad that sped out to early leads on almost all courts. Pickens, however, appeared immune to the early Cornhusker domination, taking down his opponent 6-1, 6-3 to put the first point on the board for NU.

Slowly, the Cats started to rebuild their momentum. Junior Gleb Blekher squeaked out a 7-6 first set win and a 6-2 second set win, laying down the Wildcats’ second point just moments before No. 71 graduate student Steven Forman won his top court match — and all of a sudden, NU led 3-1.

Coming back from a first set loss, No. 111 graduate student Ivan Yatsuk was the one to clinch the match for the Wildcats. Convincing 6-2 and 6-4 victories in his final two sets propelled NU to a 4-1 victory — a feat that had looked daunting at the Nebraska-dominated start. The decision was made to play out the remaining matches, making the final victory score 4-3.

The weekend’s second match — a meetup with the No. 51 Wisconsin Badgers — was Senior Day for the team’s lone senior, Spear, who received celebration from the home crowd before the match kicked off.

At the start of that matchup, the Cats straightened out Friday’s problems just in time for the Badgers.

The doubles matchups posed no problem, as NU speedily bageled the Badgers on both Courts 1 and 2 to take the first point within a half hour of its start time.

Singles, however, was a slightly tighter race than the doubles results would have predicted. This time, junior Presley Thieneman was the one to pull away, speeding to NU’s first singles point 6-4, 6-4.

Blekher fought back from a deep deficit in the beginning of his first set to pick up the Cats’ second singles point. Wisconsin showed signs of life in a point pickup on Court 4, but a win by Yatsuk took the match 4-1 for NU and gave Yatsuk his second clinch of the weekend.

That evening, NU faced unranked Illinois State, and the Redbirds failed to pose much of a threat to round out the Cats’ knock-out tripleheader.

At doubles, the rare duo of sophomore Felix Nordby and Forman won their contest first, paving the way for a doubles point clinch from Pickens and Spear.

More lineup changes defined the singles matches — Nordby and Spear moved into singles play on Courts 5 and 6, Pickens and Thieneman moved up to 2 and 3 and Yatsuk took over Court 1.

Yatsuk tallied the first singles point with a 6-2, 6-2 victory.

Spear, though not often a singles player for the Cats, brought in the second point for NU in straight sets, followed quickly by Pickens’ win in similar fashion. The match concluded at 4-0 — a smooth final victory in a weekend of wins for the Wildcats.

After the busy home swing, NU improved its win streak to eight and seems to be hitting its stride just in time. Next weekend the team will head up north to face No. 6 Michigan and No. 69 Michigan State in its final regular season matches before the Big Ten championships. A win against the Wolverines would be crucial for the Cats’ postseason hopes.

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Twitter: @alycebrownn

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