Men’s Tennis: Northwestern falls in NCAA tournament despite impressive matches against UCLA, Kentucky


Daily file photo by Ziye Wang

Graduate student Simen Bratholm swings. Bratholm picked up a singles point for NU against UCLA in their Friday first-round match.

Alyce Brown, Audience Engagement Editor

This past weekend, No. 28 Northwestern fell just short of a super-regional berth — a disappointment that consistently plagued the program’s postseason hopes in recent years.

The Wildcats (21-10, 7-2 Big Ten) battled through the first and second rounds of the NCAA Men’s Tennis Championship on Friday and Saturday, hoping to complete their impressive season-long campaign with a deep postseason run.

The team faced UCLA (12-11, 3-5 PAC-12) in its first round matchup. Right out of the gate, NU picked up the doubles point with 6-2 victories on the top two courts, putting themselves on top heading into singles.

The Bruins bounced back, picking up some early singles momentum. UCLA’s Giacomo Revelli and Gianluca Ballotta defeated graduate student Ivan Yatsuk and junior Presley Thieneman to pull away with an early 2-1 lead.

From there, the Cats took back their courts. Graduate students Simen Bratholm and Steven Forman each tallied a point for NU, and the clinching point came from junior Gleb Blekher. The consistent clincher’s teammates stormed Blekher after he propelled them into the NCAA Tournament’s second round.

The Cats’ second round match Saturday against No. 4 Kentucky (26-4, 9-3 SEC) shifted from a nail-biter into a heartbreaker. It was, coincidentally, a near repeat of NU’s second round matchup in last year’s NCAA tournament, where Kentucky knocked the Cats out 4-2.

This year, Kentucky started strong, picking up the doubles point without much fanfare after tallying wins on Courts 2 and 3.

NU needed all four points from the singles matches, and the start of each match was an impressive testament to the squad’s power. The Cats won every first set — quite the feat against a Kentucky roster packed with nationally ranked singles players.

The Cats quickly started converting those first sets into points. Yatsuk and Thieneman picked up the first two points for NU in straight sets, followed closely by a point from Blekher who rallied in his third set after being bageled in his second.

NU’s prospects were looking up. Suddenly, the Cats led 3-1, and after picking up those three back-to-back points, momentum seemed to be swinging toward NU. But as the battle to pick up its final point began, Kentucky started to pull ahead.

Kentucky grabbed a point over Bratholm on Court 3 before picking up a tight one over Forman on the top court — and, all of sudden, the match was tied 3-3. Everything came down to the final few games of graduate student Trice Pickens’ match on Court 4.

Pickens was locked in a tight battle in his third set against Kentucky’s Taha Baadi, but with a few final points, he was overwhelmed, dropping his final set 4-6.

NU’s loss ended its tournament run in the second round, but it capped off an impressive display against one of the top teams in the nation.

The Cats’ 2022-23 season — one marked by important wins and high rankings that signal a promising future for the program — has come to its conclusion. With this year’s roster having been packed with graduate students, next year will be an interesting one for the Cats as they look to improve on this season’s success while introducing fresh faces.

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Twitter: @alycebrownn

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