In the last weekend of March, the Wisconsin women’s tennis team will open the doors of Nielsen Tennis Stadium to welcome two top 25 teams in Illinois and Northwestern.
Wisconsin (10-5, 1-2 Big Ten) is coming off a road split last weekend with a 7-0 loss at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines and a 6-1 victory over the Michigan State Spartans.
The Badgers kick things off Friday with the No. 21 Fighting Illini (10-5, 2-1 Big Ten), who are currently riding a four-match win streak that includes wins over No. 10 Texas, No. 18 Nebraska and No. 30 Rice.
Senior Aleksandra Markovic is not intimidated by Illinois’ success so far this season and has no shortage of confidence in sizing up her next opponent, who the Badgers beat last year in Madison, 4-3.
“I expect us to win,” Markovic said. “We won last year so I feel like we should be able to win this year too.”
Head coach Brian Fleishman is confident in his team as well, but knows it’s going to have to fight to pull out a win.
“It’s going to be another battle,” Fleishman said. “We played them here last year and we upset them. I still think, in the Big Ten right now, anyone can beat anybody on any given day. If we play well and up to our ability it’s going to be a good match.”
Illinois has two pairs in the top 60 in the ITA rankings for doubles and has won the doubles point in nine out of their 15 matches this season.
Sophomore Nicky Stracar realizes the challenge a roster like this poses.
“I expect a tough match,” Stracar said. “Their lineup is much better, they got a lot stronger. They had a couple good wins against Nebraska and other teams. We beat them last year so hopefully we can do it again.
“They do have weaknesses. I think every team has weaknesses we can exploit. I think we can take advantage of the lower end of their lineup and get those wins down there.”
But no matter what happens Friday, the Badgers will have no chance to mull over the results as a date with No. 15 Northwestern looms Sunday.
Northwestern, which has won a Big Ten regular season title or tournament title every year since 1998, has played all 15 of its matches so far this season against ranked opponents and has kept its head above water, flashing an 8-7 overall record and a 2-1 mark in the conference.
Northwestern shut out Wisconsin last season, and UW has not scored a point on them since 2006 when they lost 6-1.
Markovic is not as willing to predict a win against Northwestern this weekend, but she does hope that the Wildcats’ loss to No. 25 Nebraska on March 25 is the beginning of a trend that will continue at Wisconsin.
“Northwestern is definitely going to be a really tough match,” Markovic said. “But we’ll see because Northwestern had some losses that they wouldn’t have had before, so we’ll try to give them our best shot.”
A big reason for the Wildcats’ success is the play of their No. 1 singles player, Kate Turvy, who is ranked 21st in the ITA rankings.
Turvy has won four out of her last five singles matches but is coming off a loss at Nebraska.
Fleishman knows Northwestern is a tennis powerhouse, but hopes home court advantage and the Wildcats’ recent losses will play to his team’s advantage.
“Northwestern has won the conference for I don’t know how many years in a row,” Fleishman said. “They just got upset by Nebraska, who just came into the conference, last weekend. Anything can happen. They are a good team, don’t get me wrong, they have quite a few ranked players in their lineup.
“We are playing them at home. I think playing at home give you a few games here and there. We are more familiar with our surrounding than they are.”