EVANSTON, Ill. -- Starting off its Big Ten campaign against in-state rivals Illinois Saturday afternoon, Northwestern fought off an Illini comeback to secure the doubles point, and rode the resulting momentum to a 5-2 dual win at Combe Tennis Center. The Wildcats were never seriously threatened, pushing the score to 5-0 before Illinois notched two points with the result decided.
The `Cats jumped out to big leads in all three doubles matches, but were forced to whether a furious comeback by the Illini to pull out the doubles point. Each duo got up at least two breaks early in their pro-sets, but only one pair capitalized to cruise to a victory. Belinda Niu and Kate Turvy were up 6-1 at No. 3, and never let Allison Falkin and Misia Kedzierski gather any momentum before closing out an 8-3 win.
Nida Hamilton and Linda Abu Mushrefova, ranked No. 8 in the country, quickly surged out to a 4-0 lead over No. 23 Rachael White and Melissa Kopinski at No. 1. However, the Illini team fought back to go ahead 7-6, and NU needed back-to-back match saving holds from Hamilton and Mushrefova to force a tiebreak. The Wildcat duo swung the tide back in their favor with four quick points to open the breaker, and closed it out 7-2 to capture the doubles point for Northwestern.
Veronica Corning and Alicia Barnett were also up early, 6-3 at No. 2, but had to rally, breaking their opponents at 7-8 to force a tiebreak. They were up 4-1 in the tiebreak when the doubles point was clinched and play was suspended.
Belinda Niu rode the momentum from her convincing doubles win into singles play, completely dismantling Rachael White at No. 3 in a 6-1, 6-1 win. Nida Hamilton also won her first set 6-1, but used a late break to close out a 6-4 win at No. 6 - her first dual win of the season - and push the Wildcat lead to 3-0.
With four tight matches left on court, freshman Alicia Barnett once again stepped up to provide the Wildcats with a much needed boost. Moving up to the No. 4 slot due to an injury to Brittany Wowchuk, Barnett looked right at home holding off Misia Kedzierski for a 6-4, 6-4 win, clinching the dual for Northwestern.
Linda Abu Mushrefova followed Barnett by finishing off a 6-4, 7-5 win at No. 5 to push the Wildcat lead to 5-0.
The Illini got on the board with two late victories at No. 2 and No. 1. Veronica Corning fell to Allison Falkin, 6-3, 7-5, before No. 55 Kate Turvy dropped a super tiebreaker in her 3-6, 6-3, 1-0 (10-3) loss to No. 120 Melissa Kopinski.
Concluding a 3-1 home stand, including two wins over top-20 opponents, the `Cats now head on the road to take on Iowa Friday afternoon. Action against the Hawkeyes will get underway at 3:30 p.m.
#8 Northwestern 5, #33 Illinois 2
1. No. 8 Hamilton/Mushrefova (NU) def. No. 23 White/Kopinski (ILL) 9-8 (2)
2. Barnett/Corning (NU) unfinished Smutko/O'Connor (ILL) 8-8 (4-1)
3. Niu/Turvy (NU) def. Falkin/Kedzierski (ILL) 8-3
Order of finish: 3, 1*
1. No. 120 Melissa Kopinski (ILL) def. No. 55 Kate Turvy (NU) 3-6, 6-3, 1-0 (10-3)
2. Allison Falkin (ILL) def. Veronica Corning (NU) 6-3, 7-5
3. No. 96 Belinda Niu (NU) def. Rachael White (ILL) 6-1, 6-1
4. Alicia Barnett (NU) def. Misia Kedzierski (ILL) 6-4, 6-4
5. Linda Abu Mushrefova (NU) def. Breanne Smutko (ILL) 6-4, 7-5
6. Nida Hamilton (NU) def. Audrey O'Connor (ILL) 6-1, 6-4
Order of finish: 3, 6, 4*, 5, 2, 1