Northwestern men’s tennis loses rivalry match against Illinois

A match before the Northwestern men’s tennis team huddles. Ten different Wildcats have made singles appearances this season.

Men’s Tennis

It’s been a while since Northwestern defeated Illinois in Champaign. The last time it happened was 1997 – The Notorious BIG’s “Hypnotize” was the top charts, and none of the Wildcats were involved in the last weekend’s rivalry match.

The Fighting Illini (10-13, 3-4 Big Ten) extended the streak Saturday, claiming a 4-1 victory over NU (16-8, 4-3 Big Ten). The Cats have lost 30 of their last 31 matches against Illinois.

The weather conditions varied throughout the weekend, and the NU was certain it would start shortly before the match. Prior to the match, coach Arvid Swan held a morning practice session with both indoor and outdoor courts to prepare for both.

“Recently, we haven’t played much outdoors,” senior Simen Bratholm said. “It was kind of windy today, so we just had to adapt to the difficult situation.”

The Cats’ woes started in doubles. The top two courts on the NU conceded set points, almost simultaneously, with a disappointing result given that the Cats had won both doubles points in last year’s matches against the Fighting Illini.

Singles, on the other hand, got off to a promising start. The Cats took three quick first sets and saw two more go to a tiebreak, but Illinois defeated NU’s top two singles courts, the first team to do so in over a year. Sophomore Presley Thieneman recorded the first individual victory of the day, defeating Alex Brown 6-1, 7-5.

“He won 75% and 80% of the ground stroke rallies in the match today,” Swan said. “Off the baseline, Presley was winning the vast majority of points.”

However, after Thieneman tied the match, Illinois started to gain momentum. No. 30 Steven Forman, a senior, saved the first set of four points, but both Forman and Bratholm lost their tiebreaks.

Bratholm, who had defeated the same individual opponent in an indoor match in November, returns with struggles.

“He just put more balls into play,” Bratholm said. “I missed a little too much, and he was a better player on the court.”

Forman was on his showdown in broken ends, his second straight-sets loss in the season. Graduate student Brian Berdusco found breaks, but conceded even more as Illinois took a 3-1 lead.

Senior Trice Pickens had a strong opening, winning five straight games. Pickens had a chance to close the second set in a match, but he too lost a tiebreak.

“I probably didn’t play aggressive enough, in hindsight,” Pickens said. “Sometimes, you lose the breaker, and so it goes.”

Eventually, Bratholm faltered on his own serve, giving the clinic the overall point of the Fighting Illini. Pickens and freshman Felix Nordby were both in the middle when the match was abandoned.

Despite the loss, Swan said the team has been staying motivated for the coming weeks.

“It’s a point here or there,” Swan said. “Illinois did a nice job getting up in the breakers, which would put some pressure on us to stay in it.”

NU’s next match, a midweek faceoff against No. 13 Harvard (15-4, 5-0 Ivy League), comes at a critical time. With the regular season winding down, the Cats could use their postseason resume for a season-defining win.

The match, originally intended to be played in February, will now be interrupted by NU’s season-ending Big Ten schedule.

“We just got to take a look at the mirror and say we didn’t do our best today,” Pickens said. “Make sure we have a really productive next few days to get ready for Harvard, and then get ready for these last three regular season matches.”

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Twitter: @nathanjansell

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