Rutgers faces Northwestern with chance to earn first Big Ten win

<p>Senior Gina Li said Rutgers will play loose&nbsp;against Northwestern as they know what to expect from a top team like the Wildcats.</p>

Senior Gina Li said Rutgers will play loose against Northwestern as they know what to expect from a top team like the Wildcats.

As the classic proverb goes, "If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again." 

The Rutgers tennis team will need to keep this attitude in mind Friday at 12:30 p.m. in its matchup against Northwestern at the East Brunswick Racquet Club.

The Scarlet Knights, who are 4-3 on the season, look to finally satisfy their efforts toward a first Big Ten conference win.

The Knights come into the contest on the heels of a 7-0 defeat at the hands of Maryland last week in their first conference match this year.

The score line was misleading as the Knights had or shared the lead in four of the seven possible points — more specifically, three singles matches and the doubles point.

Seniors Gina Li and Lindsey Kayati as well as junior Ksenija Tihomirova all managed to force third and deciding sets against their respective opponents in singles, but failed to earn victories.

Despite the loss, Rutgers remains positive heading into battle with an extremely formidable Northwestern outfit.

The Wildcats are ranked No. 42 in the country with a 3-5 overall record and a 1-0 slate in the conference.

“Northwestern is one of the most storied programs in the history of women’s tennis,” said Rutgers head coach Benjamin Bucca. “They’ve been incredibly potent in the Big Ten, so the match should be a good test for us to see how good we really are.”

The Wildcats upset No. 36 Georgia Tech on Saturday at home in a nail biter, 4-3, with the match lasting until the sixth and final singles spot.

After such an emotionally and physically tolling result, Northwestern may not be fully prepared for the Knights’ powerful doubles force.

Kayati and junior Farris Cunningham have formed a strong partnership in third doubles, amassing a remarkable 5-1 record thus far in the campaign.

Tihomirova and sophomore Chloe Lee also own a winning record in doubles play with a 4-3 mark for Rutgers.

“We feel we can compete with the very best especially in doubles,” Bucca said. “We won’t back down from a challenge.”

Northwestern has had an outstanding start in its doubles action as well, with the dynamic duo of Maddie Lipp and Alex Chatt currently ranked No. 13 in the country.

Lipp and Chatt possess a solid 3-2 record, but even more impressively, all of their matches have come against ranked opponents.

Switching to singles action, Lipp is noted as the 35th best player in the country while Erin Larner leads the Wildcats with five individual wins.

For the Knights, Li and Tihomirova head the pack with four triumphs a piece in the ace and No. 3 spot respectively.

The success of Li, Tihimirova and the rest of the Rutgers veterans is aiding in readying the troops for a tough matchup against a Northwestern team that has consistently been a top championship contender in the conference over the last few years.

“We’re going to come out relaxed and play with nothing to lose,” Li said. “We know what to expect from that caliber of opponent and it’ll be good to assess where we are as a unit.”

Last year in Evanston, Illinois, in the two programs’ first matchup as conference foes, Northwestern handled visiting Rutgers relatively easily with a tally of 6-1.

This spring though, the Knights claim to be and are performing like a much-improved team.

“We’re playing confident tennis,” Bucca said. “We’re in the heat of the season and the team is really in that competitive and dedicated mode.”

For updates on the Rutgers tennis team, follow @targumsports on Twitter.

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