Women’s tennis splits with No. 1 Northwestern and No. 72 Wisconsin

By Rosalind Dumlao

After a 6-1 loss against a tough Northwestern team, the No. 33 Illinois women’s tennis team turned the tables with a 6-1 win against No. 72 Wisconsin.

Despite the big loss to the No. 1 Wildcats, the Illini are the only Big Ten team Northwestern (13-1, 4-0 Big Ten) has not swept so far this conference season. Of its four conference matches, Northwestern has won 7-0 against Wisconsin, Michigan State and Indiana.

The Wildcats took the doubles point from the Illini quickly, grabbing wins at the No. 2 and No. 3 spots by scores of 8-1 and 8-3, respectively. But the Illini’s duo of redshirt sophomore Leigh Finnegan and freshman Chelcie Abajian wouldn’t go down at the No. 1 doubles.

Finnegan and Abajian forced the No. 22-ranked duo of Georgia Rose and Lauren Lui to the brink before the Wildcats’ tandem ended the doubles match with clever net points for an 8-6 win.

“I started off pretty slow,” said Abajian, who fell 6-0, 6-4 at the No. 3 singles spot. “But I realized that coming into every single Big Ten match, I need to step up my game and come out stronger.”

Perhaps the highlight of the match also proved to be the highlight of the weekend. Junior Megan Fudge, whose impressive 11-match winning streak ended last week at Purdue, left the weekend with a pair of victories to move to 13-1 in singles.

Fudge grabbed the lone point for the Illini against Northwestern’s No. 36 Samantha Murray. Fudge is the only unranked opponent to defeat Murray in the dual season.

“I was just trying to stay confident,” Fudge said. “It was tough because we (already lost), but it kind of motivated me more because I wanted to grab at least one win for us.”

At Wisconsin (5-9, 0-3), Fudge remained on cruise control. While the Illini grabbed wins at all six singles spots, Fudge’s 7-5, 6-1 win over Wisconsin’s Katya Mirnova at the No. 2 spot proved to be the clincher.

“(Fudge) just got it done, but honestly Finnegan was the big match at No. 1,” Illinois head coach Michelle Dasso said. “Fudge took care of business. She wasn’t feeling that well … It was a close first set, but it was nice to see her break away in the second.”

A split over the weekend brings the Illini to 11-3 overall and 3-1 in the Big Ten, but they also take with them lessons from their loss against top-ranked Northwestern.

“In general, Northwestern is No. 1 for a reason and we saw that (Friday),” Dasso said in Friday’s press release. “We learned what we need to improve on and hope to get another chance to face them at the Big Ten Tournament later on this season.”

Of those improvements, Dasso emphasized “playing the big points better” for her team.