Gophers men’s tennis coach David Geatz has played up the doubles performance of his team all season long.
“We just don’t lose the doubles point,” he said earlier this season. “That’s a huge advantage for us. You do that and you only have to win half of the singles matches, and we have guys who can do that.”
But on Friday, Geatz’s prophecy proved only half right.
Minnesota split the six singles matches with Purdue but stumbled — for only the second time in 15 tries — in the doubles. The Gophers dropped all three doubles matches and handed over the pivotal match-clinching point to the Boilermakers.
Senior captain Ben Gabler won easily, 6-3, 6-4, at No. 2 singles; sophomore Tom Chicoine got a 7-6, 6-1 victory at No. 3; and sophomore Adam Selkirk won 6-3, 7-6 at No. 4.
Selkirk is the Gophers’ hottest player of late, going undefeated at No. 4 for the month of April.
“Adam can be just scary-good,” Geatz said. “He could play No. 1. He can beat anyone in the Big Ten when he’s playing like that.”
No. 1 singles player Lars Hjarrand has had a rough time since returning to the Minnesota lineup earlier this month after missing the first two-thirds of the season. A three-time All-Big Ten selection, Hjarrand has shown only flashes of that form. Through six matches this season, he is 2-4.
Hjarrand had expected that moving outdoors, where the speed of the courts is a little more manageable, would be to his advantage. But against Purdue and Illinois — both of which were held outdoors — he twice went down in straight sets.
“He’s going to be alright,” Geatz said last week. “The thing about him, the bigger the match, the bigger he plays.
“It takes him awhile to get into it, but by the time the Big Ten tournament rolls around, there’s nobody else I’d rather have at No. 1.”
The Gophers (8-12 overall, 4-6 Big Ten) have shown a tendency to bounce back after a loss but were unable to close the regular season with a win over Illinois on Sunday. Minnesota’s regular season Big Ten record is the worst for a Geatz-coached team.
In a match cut short by Minnesota’s travel plans, the Illini beat the Gophers soundly, 5-1. Only Martin Michaelowski, playing at No. 5 singles, pulled out a win. The No. 2 doubles match was undecided with each team having won one doubles match.
Minnesota, which has won four of the last five conference titles, travels next weekend to East Lansing, Mich., for the Big Ten championships.
Women finish fourth
The Gophers headed into the weekend looking to secure a No. 5 seed in next weekend’s Big Ten tournament. But with a split in weekend matches against Northwestern and Wisconsin, they fared even better.
The Gophers (11-5, 6-4) won 5-2 at Northwestern on Saturday but lost 4-3 to No. 19 Wisconsin the following day. Minnesota finished fourth in the conference behind Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin.
The Badgers are the highest-ranked team the Gophers have met this season, and Wisconsin’s No. 1 singles player Melissa Zimpfer has been ranked in the top five nationally for most of the season.
Freshman No. 1 Nora Sauska fell hard to Zimpfer, 6-1, 6-2, for only her third loss of the season.
But the rest of the Gophers pushed Wisconsin hard, splitting the singles matches with wins at Nos. 2, 5 and 6. As is often the case, however, the Gophers lost the critical doubles point and the match.
Still, Coach Martin Novak doesn’t seem to believe in moral victories.
“We need to get past that stage,” he said. “If you’re going to lose, you might as well lose 7-0. I’d rather do that than lose 4-3 and think you had a chance.”
On Saturday, Minnesota took the doubles point — their second in the last two weeks — en route to a 5-2 win over Northwestern. The road win over the Wildcats was the first in Novak’s seven-year tenure.
Sauska earned her 23rd win of the season with a 6-3, 6-1 thumping of Northwestern’s Katherine Nasser.
“At the beginning of the year, I predicted we’d finish anywhere from No. 1 to No. 5,” Novak said. “With a couple of close losses, I’m pleased with where we ended up.”