By Athena Liu
The Northwestern University men’s tennis team lost to North Carolina State University Thursday with a score of 4 to 3 in the ITA dual season opening game. But the debut wins of several freshmen players shed a hopeful light on the season prospects.
The Wildcats opened their 2018 dual season with a home game at the Combe Tennis Center on the Evanston campus. Though holding an advantageous 5-4 record against the opposing team from previous years, Northwestern had a slow start in the doubles matches. The Wolfpack, on the other hand, came fully prepared with two prior dual match victories over Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina and Winthrop University in South Carolina.
Northwestern lost two of the three doubles matches, with the third one discontinued as soon as the score results gave NC State the point. But the Wildcats came thundering back with freshmen players Antonioni Fasano, Nick Brookes and AJ Joshi, each pulling out a winning singles match. However, the team did not get the critical fourth point with another singles victory. NC State finished the Thursday game 4-3 with three singles matches and two doubles matches. That rewrites the record between the two schools with a 5-5 tie.
“This wasn’t good enough today, but there are also some positive points,” said Swan.
Brookes made his dual game debut challenging the experienced Ivan Saveljic. He scored the first point for the Wildcats in the No.4 singles with straight sets 6-4, 6-4, and did not lose a single serve of the match. Joshi, too, erupted with enormous energy on the court. He brought aggressive plays to every shot and routed NC State’s Robert Turzak in the No. 6 singles match with two 6-2 sets.
“Joshi just fights, makes a million balls and makes his opponent go crazy,” Swan said with satisfaction.
Fasano, returning with a Big Ten singles title from last fall, opened in the match No. 1 singles spot for his first dual season game with the team. Facing Alexis Galarneau, who had just beaten him in the doubles match, Fasano lost the first set 3-6. But the rookie managed to soar back in the next two sets by playing more offensive tennis. He completed a comeback and rallied to take down the 16th-ranked Galarneau 2-1 (3-6, 6-2, 6-2). Although NC State had achieved four points before Fasano wrapped up his debut, he still fought until the last rally to bring home a remarkable victory.
“This is a special kid,” said Swan after the match, “He is one of the best freshmen in college tennis.”
As the outstanding seniors on the team in the 2017 class graduated, the 2018 dual season is positioned to be tougher for the Wildcats, with no senior currently on the player roster.
“Last year, we had three seniors. They were really good players and they were the leaders,” recalled sophomore student Dominik Starý. This year, Starý is the second oldest player on the team. He played very competitively and lost the singles game with only a slight disadvantage of 1-2 (6-1, 1-6, 5-7) but it was the critical point needed.
With four freshmen in the roster, the Wildcats now have to deal with new challenges. Swan pointed out that the doubles matches are one of the most significant weaknesses of the squad. The coach hoped to learn from the singles victories on Thursday and return with better energy and smoother teamwork for the following games.
In Thursday’s game, Swan showed great trust in the freshmen and managed to make the most of these new faces in the lineup. This impressed the opponent, as well. NC State Head Coach Kyle Spencer said that, although he had never observed these freshmen playing college tennis, he was surprised to see how energetic they were on the court. He said he believes that, with the guidance of two great coaches, the Wildcats would have a great season just like before.
For Northwestern players, youth has never been an excuse for not achieving the best. “We have very high standards for our program. We are not satisfied with losing, ever,” said Swan, talking about his anticipation for an ambitious season. “Our goal is to maintain our standard, to play the post season, and to be in the lead teams. None of that changes.”
Northwestern will move on to five road games and return home to host Notre Dame on Feb. 11. The players expect to hone their skills as the season continues and comeback as a better team, Swan said.