A win over Illinois in 2016 highlighted a 10-1 Big Ten record that helped Northwestern make a run into the NCAA Tournament. The first meeting this season between the in-state rivals didn’t go as well for the Wildcats.
After winning the doubles point in exciting fashion — thanks to a tiebreak win by Chris Ephron and Michael Lorenzini — No. 16 Northwestern (11-6, 0-1 Big Ten) dropped four singles matches to lose 4-1 to the No. 23 Fighting Illini (9-5, 1-1) in Champaign on Friday night.
The loss is the Wildcats’ sixth in their last seven matches, following a program-best 10-0 start.
Konrad Zieba and and Sam Shropshire lost No. 1 doubles in a tiebreak while Strong Kirchheimer and Dominik Stary won easily, 6-3. That left it up to the freshman/sophomore combo of Chris Ephron and Michael Lorenzini, who won their tiebreak 9-7 to notch the doubles point for Northwestern.
Singles was a different story, though, as the Fighting Illini won the first four matches to win the match outright.
Straight-set losses at Nos. 1, 4 and 5 singles — by No. 28 Kirchheimer, Stary and Ben Vandixhorn — put Northwestern in a 3-1 deficit with three more matches still to play.
Then, facing nationally ranked No. 23 Aron Hiltzik (a New Trier product), No. 40 Zieba fought his way to a third set but fell 6-2 to seal the match for Illinois.
Northwestern will look to rebound on Sunday at home against Texas Tech, which lost to Illinois 4-0 earlier on Friday. The match is a one-game respite from the Wildcats’ Big Ten schedule, which continues on March 24th against Purdue.