The Wildcats (3-1) overcame a sluggish performance against N.C. State (2-0) with two victories in a Sunday doubleheader against Memphis and IUPUI.
Northwestern stumbled in its first real challenge of the year against #23 N.C. State (2-0). Led by one of the top returning players in the country in #16 Alexis Galarneau, the Wolfpack are always a tough out, and had just defeated perennial Big Ten power Michigan as part of a multi-game road trip.
“They are a really good quality team with one of the best players in the country at number one,” Coach Arvid Swan said. “I give a lot of respect to the coaches there. We felt like we could win the match going in, and we had a lot of chances today.The match got away from us at the end.”
Simen Bratholm and Nick Brookes fell to Tadas Bebelis and Yannai Barkai 4-6 while Galarneau teamed with Robert Turzak to defeat Chris Ephron and Dominik Start 6-3. Despite the relative ease of their win in doubles, the ‘Cats rebounded during singles with two first set wins and down-to-the-wire contests in the others, Steven Forman was given the task of handling Galarneau on court #1 and started strong with a break point off Galarneau’s first service, but the Wolfpack senior responded with a break of his own at 3-4 before pulling away for a 5-7 win. Forman could not stop Galarneau in the second, dropping the set 0-6.
“Forman had a tough task,” Swan said. “Going forward, when we get down a break, we’ve got to try to find a way to fight immediately back. We can't just give up two breaks, [and] we’ve got to stay in these sets. Galarneau is an outstanding player. He was too good today.”
Antonioni Fasano and Simen Bratholm lost their matches in straight sets to clinch the win for N.C. State. Only Trice Pickens took a point off the Wolfpack on court #4 with a dominant 6-1, 6-4 win over Turzak.
Northwestern took down Memphis on Sunday 4-2, overcoming a nervy start to the doubles point and tense finish on court #1 with strong singles play. Coach Swan switched Forman and Stary, on courts #2 and #3, but at first the ‘Cats found themselves down 1-3, 0-1, and 0-2 after losing break points on all courts. Forman and Ephron caught two more breaks for a 6-4 win, while Bratholm and Brookes took a commanding 6-5 lead over the #21 pair of David Stevenson and Oscar Cutting despite being down 1-4 at one point earlier on. At match point, the Tigers couldn’t return a strong serve by Bratholm, giving Northwestern the 1-0 edge.
Northwestern picked up wins from Forman and Bratholm, but Pickens and Stary lost in straight sets. Nick Brookes, went up 4-2 in the third set against Cutting, and at a 40-40 deadlock, the junior hit an ace to pull away at 5-2. Cutting double-faulted during the next game to end the match.
The ‘Cats comfortably took care of business against IUPUI in a routine 4-0 win. Coach Swan rested a few players, giving AJ Joshi and Russell Berdusco the start on court #3. The duo defeated Reed Plunkett and Eric Hollingsworth 6-1, while Forman and Pickens grabbed the other win on court #2. Joshi pulled off the elusive double-bagel, winning 6-0, 6-0 on court #6 against Michael Koch, while Brookes, Pickens, and Bratholm recorded straight sets wins to close out the match.
Coach Swan continues to toggle his lineups looking for the best fit, while giving more inexeperienced players like Berdusco the chance to be acclimated to his level of tennis before conference play starts. The addition of Forman may prove decisive as the former five star recruit continues to improve with each match. While the top dogs of the conference may still be out of reach, the ‘Cats have proven they will be a tough out no matter who they face.
The ‘Cats return to action next week at Louisville on Jan. 31.