Men’s Tennis: Northwestern breezes through quarterfinals, falls in semifinals of Big Ten Tournament


Daily file photo by Ziye Wang

Graduate student Trice Pickens prepares for the ball. Pickens had the clinching point for the Cats this weekend against Wisconsin.

Alyce Brown, Audience Engagement Editor

Despite a big push, Northwestern couldn’t quite make it past a historical stumbling block for the program — the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. 

The Wildcats (20-9, 7-2 Big Ten) picked up a convincing quarterfinal win over Wisconsin but ultimately fell in a close semifinal contest to Michigan.

NU’s No. 3 tournament seed gave it a bye through the first round, starting its tournament run in the quarterfinals Friday against the sixth-seeded Wisconsin Badgers (11-11, 4-5 Big Ten). When the teams last met April 16, the Cats emerged with a 4-1 victory — and they replicated that success this weekend. 

Wisconsin came out strong, tallying the doubles point with 6-4 wins on Courts 2 and 3. This was a marked difference from the teams’ last matchup, when NU bageled two Badger pairs to take doubles, and the early Wisconsin point looked like it could cause problems. 

But the Cats knew how to turn it around. Graduate student Steven Forman and junior Gleb Blekher tallied NU’s first two points in straight sets on Courts 1 and 6, respectively. 

Graduate student Ivan Yatsuk grabbed the third point, battling back after dropping his first set 0-6 to win his second 6-0 and his third 7-6 — a valuable comeback for the Cats. 

The race for the clinching point ensued between graduate student Simen Bratholm on Court 3 and graduate student Trice Pickens on Court 4. Both were within a few serves of winning their matches, but it was Pickens who pulled out in front to finish NU’s 4-1 win over the Badgers. 

The convincing victory over Wisconsin moved the Cats on to Saturday’s semifinals, where they went head-to-head with second-seeded Michigan (24-4, 8-1 Big Ten). The Wolverines took down NU 4-1 just last weekend, and their rematch was now do-or-die. 

Michigan took doubles handily, taking down Forman and Bratholm on Court 1 and Pickens and senior Natan Spear on Court 3 for the point.

As singles got underway, NU put up a fight. The Cats won 4-of-6 first sets — a departure from last weekend’s Wolverine wins in singles. Unfortunately for the Cats, however, not all the courts could hold on to their early leads. 

Yatsuk did convert his set into the first singles point of the match on Court 2, defeating Michigan fifth-year Andrew Fenty — the same player Forman upset last weekend. 

The Wolverines then picked up points in wins over Pickens and Forman, pushing the Michigan advantage to 3-1. 

But NU remained in contention. Blekher took down Michigan junior Jacob Bickersteth on Court 6 to notch a second singles point for the Cats. Blekher earned an All-Tournament Team nod Sunday. 

Hopes of a Wildcat win were soon dashed, however, as the Wolverines registered their final point on Court 3 to win the match 4-2. 

The loss to Michigan marked the Cats’ second consecutive stumble on the conference semifinal stage.

Next week, NU looks to put the tournament loss behind it as it moves on to the end of the season — the team NCAA Tournament. Next weekend will be the first and second rounds of the tournament, where competing teams are yet to be announced. 

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Twitter: @alycebrownn

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