The Wisconsin men’s tennis team has a chance to start anew as the Big Ten men’s tennis tournament swings into action Thursday.
The Badgers (8-12, 2-8 Big Ten) will head to Columbus, Ohio, on a five-match losing streak. The last time Wisconsin won a match was April 6 against Indiana, when they came out with a 5-2 decision. Since then, the Badgers have dug themselves a hole that resulted in a 10th-seed matchup against seventh-seeded Iowa (12-9, 4-6 Big Ten). The Hawkeyes are a familiar foe, as the 4-3 loss to Iowa last Friday still leaves a bitter taste in UW’s mouth.
“[We] had some match points to win [the Iowa] match, and we feel very confident we can beat them on Thursday and get another shot at Ohio State,” said head coach Pat Klingelhoets.
The host Buckeyes, who drew the No. 2 seed, will have a bye in the first round as they wait to find out who their opponent will be in the quarterfinal round.
In order for the Badgers to challenge Ohio State, they will need to focus enough to win match points when the opportunity presents itself. While UW’s record is dismal, a few points closed out here and there could have drastically changed the outcome of the season. Four out of five of UW’s last losses have been a result of a 4-3 defeat.
“[Four] of those matches we lost 4-3, and two of those matches we had match point,” said Klingelhoets. “We have been playing well; unfortunately, we just haven’t gotten any breaks here in the last couple of weeks.”
Senior Danny Westerman echoed Klingelhoet’s thoughts.
“Our preseason goals included finishing top four in the conference,” said Westerman. “Looking back on a few of those 4-3 losses, if we could have beaten [any of those teams] we could be in [the middle of] the conference. Those 4-3 matches are a flip of a coin there too — it’s just whoever’s better that day. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the better team.”
Westerman will be instrumental in deciding which way the match will go. Westerman has been the Badgers’ No. 1 player the past three seasons and has the benefit of knowing that once the tournament is over, his season may still continue. Westerman appears to be a lock for the upcoming NCAA tournament and will be the first Badger since 1999 to do so.
Currently, Westerman holds a 14-6 singles record and is 7-3 in Big Ten action. Behind him at the No. 2 spot is fellow senior Scott Rutherford. Rutherford is the only other UW player that holds a winning record at the singles spot (12-8, 5-5 Big Ten). The next three spots have been a downside for UW, as the overall records are well below a .500 winning percentage (5-15, 4-20, 7-12). Wisconsin has used three to four different players at the each of Nos. 3 through 5 spots. The No. 6 spot, dominated by sophomore Scott Green (7-12, 2-8 Big Ten), has been won by Wisconsin 10 times out of 19, but only three of those victories have been in conference play.
On the doubles side of action, UW has had a little better luck, with two out of the three spots holding winning records. The No. 1 duo of Green and Rutherford has gone 11-8 and 6-4 Big Ten. The No. 2 spot has flip-flopped between seniors Westerman and Jason Gonzaga (3-5, 0-3 Big Ten) and Westerman and Justin Baker (8-3, 6-1 Big Ten). The third spot has an 8-11 record among four different combinations, but Alexander Kasarov and David Hippee have gone 3-0 in the Big Ten in the slot.
The Hawkeyes have five out of their eight players at .500 or better. They are led by junior Stuart Waters (14-7, 6-4 Big Ten). Waters also holds down the No. 1 doubles spot along with freshman Justin Gaard. The duo has only gone 4-6 in Big Ten play, though.
While the Badgers know they can’t erase all that has happened so far this season, they do know the opportunity presents itself to play as if they had a clean slate. They need to take lessons from their losses and play off their experiences. If they can, a contest against Ohio State can be possible.
“We’ve had our opportunities, and we couldn’t capitalize as much as we’d like,” said Westerman. “We felt like we’re playing well; unfortunately, it just hasn’t gone our way.”