Northwestern entered its weekend slate in Tuscaloosa, AL against Alabama and Auburn badly in need of their first victory, with conference play looming on the horizon. Although the same obstacles that have plagued them this year continued to bite against the Crimson Tide in a 5-2 loss, the ‘Cats finally achieved their breakthrough against Auburn with a 4-2 result.
Alabama took the doubles point, leaving Northwestern still in search of that elusive doubles point. Nick Brookes and Simen Bratholm took their match 6-4 against Mazen Osama and Patrick Kaukovalta, but the ‘Cats dropped their other two matches. Dominik Stary and Chris Ephron lost to Thibaut Cancel and Alexey Nesterov 6-4, and Trice Pickens and Antonioni Fasano lost to Edson Ortiz and Zhe Zhou.
The Crimson Tide exerted their dominance by quickly picking up the first two singles matches. Bratholm followed his doubles victory by falling flat in his next match; he lost 0-6, 2-6 to Ortiz. Osama defeated Brookes 6-3, 6-3 to leave Brookes winless at the number one singles spot this year. With Northwestern down 3-0, Dominik Stary rebounded from his loss against N.C State to take his third match of the year, a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Kaukovalta to bring one back for the Wildcats.
Needing one more win to clinch the match, Zhou took over in his final game against Ephron, using a punishing service game to take a 7-5, 6-4 win. Cancel took his match against Ephron and Pickens defeated Nesterov to win his second singles match of the year. Overall, Alabama prevailed with a 5-2 victory.
The ‘Cats began their next match against Auburn with their first doubles win of the season, courtesy of two wins by the Brookes/Bratholm pairing and Pickens/Fasano pairings, who won their matches 6-4 and 6-2 respectively.
Northwestern continued their strong start in singles, where in five of six matches they jumped out to quick first set leads. Coach Swan put Stary on court one for the first time all season, but he dropped his match to Matteo De Vincentis by a 6-7, 3-6 scoreline. Brookes, on the other hand, took his match against Brandon Laubser 7-6, 6-4.
Bratholm, Fasano, Ephron, and Pickens all won their first set but dropped their second set, setting up a quadrant of final sets with the game anybody’s for the taking. Fasano dropped his third set 6-2, 3-6, 4-6 to Tad Maclean, giving Auburn its second singles win to tie the match. With two wins needed to get the victory, Ephron and Pickens pulled through: Ephron took down Tim Dollman 7-6, 5-7, 7-5, and Pickens defeated Michael Durham 7-6, 2-6, 6-3. The ‘Cats rolled to a 4-2 win, their first of the year.
The doubles point was always going to be critical for the ‘Cats, who haven’t been able to overcome the 1-0 hole yet this season. Pickens and Brookes have the makings of a potentially formidable doubles duo; the pair have only dropped one doubles set all year. Brookes also took his first singles win of the year on court two.
Northwestern returns to the Combe Tennis Center on Feb. 3 to play Duke and Chicago State at noon and 5:30 p.m., respectively.