Men lose a pair of nailbiters in Illinois

The women lost twice at home, extending their losing streak to 3.

Charlie Armitz

The road has not been kind to the Gophers men’s tennis team in 2012, and it delivered its cruelest blow yet over the weekend in Illinois.

No. 36 Minnesota went toe-to-toe with No. 53 Northwestern, losing 4-3 on Saturday in Evanston, Ill., and No. 17 Illinois, losing 4-2 on Sunday in Champaign, Ill.

“It couldn’t have been any closer both matches,” head coach Geoff Young said. “We didn’t play our best tennis against Northwestern. I feel like we played better [Sunday], but Illinois’ lineup is a little stronger, so that’s probably normal that we play up to the level of our opponents.”

The Gophers are 2-5 on the road in 2012 and 8-5 overall. Their two losses this weekend ended a seven-match winning streak that began Feb. 11.

Minnesota led Northwestern 2-0 on Saturday before dropping three consecutive singles matches. In the deciding match, the Gophers’ Jack Hamburg fell 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 to the Wildcats’ Alex Pasareanu at No. 5 singles.

The script flipped Sunday when Minnesota nearly recovered from a 3-0 deficit against the Illini. The Gophers opened the match by losing the doubles point for the first time since Jan. 30 and dropped the first two singles matches in straight sets.

Then Minnesota closed the margin to 3-2 with wins by Leandro Toledo at second singles and Julian Dehn at fourth singles.

Toledo was ranked No. 80 heading into the weekend but lost to Northwestern’s No. 109 Spencer Wolf 7-5, 6-4 on Saturday. He rebounded Sunday by upsetting Illinois’ No. 31 Roy Kalmanovich 6-4, 5-7, 6-0.

But Michael Sicora, playing at No. 6 singles in his first match since Feb. 4, fell 7-5 in the third set to Ross Guignon. With the team competition already decided, Phillip Arndt’s match at No. 3 singles was left unfinished because the Gophers needed to catch a flight in Chicago.

“We put a great effort, we fought really hard and competed very well, as did [Illinois],” Young said about Sunday’s match. “[It was] the first doubles point we’ve lost in a while, so having to win four singles matches is tough against a tough, strong team like Illinois.”

Women’s skid continues with two home losses

Nine days ago, the Gophers women’s tennis was riding the ultimate high — an unexpected nine-match winning streak entering its toughest stretch of the season.

Now, the team is searching for answers after back-to-back home losses stretched its losing streak to three matches.

The No. 32 Gophers lost 5-2 to No. 15 Northwestern on Friday and 6-1 to No. 21 Illinois on Sunday to fall to 2-3 in the Big Ten.

The team has lost three straight matches to ranked opponents after starting the year 7-1 against the nation’s top competition.

“Against good teams, there’s just very little margin for error,” head coach Tyler Thomson said. “You’ve got to do pretty much everything well, and we didn’t do many things well [Sunday].”

Minnesota dropped all three doubles matches to Illinois on Sunday, winning just six games in total. They also lost the first four singles matches in straight sets.

“I felt coming into today that our doubles was really moving in the right direction,” Thomson said Sunday. “Today made me rethink that.”

On Friday, Minnesota delivered what Thomson called its best doubles performance of the season, winning a decisive tiebreaker at No. 1 doubles despite blowing leads in two of the three doubles matches.

Singles was a different story, as the Gophers lost the first set in all six matches. They rallied to win one match and force a third-set supertiebreaker in another, but it was not enough.

“We had opportunities that we let get away,” Thomson said.

Despite the team’s struggles, No. 6 singles player Julia Courter won both of her matches over the weekend to improve to 9-5. She also won at No. 5 singles in the Gophers’ 6-1 loss to Michigan last Sunday.

“I think, as far as the opponents go, we were just right there with the tennis level,” Courter said about playing Northwestern and Illinois. “We just need to have a good, solid week of practice. Everyone needs to get on the same page.”

Both the men and women’s teams play Penn State and Ohio State next weekend. The men will play at home while the women will hit the road for the fourth time in their last five weekends.