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Wildcats slated to visit Eck Tennis Pavillion

Rama Gottumukkala | Friday, February 18, 2005

For the past month, the Irish have enjoyed the comforts of playing in the friendly confines of the Eck Tennis Pavilion. But with a grueling road trip looming, the team intends to make the most of tonight’s home stand.No. 23 Notre Dame (8-2) plays its final home match for almost a month tonight, facing No. 40 Northwestern (5-3). After playing eight of their last nine matches in familiar quarters, the Irish will close out the current stretch of the home schedule against the Wildcats.”We’re really excited about the opportunity to play a really good team,” Notre Dame coach Bobby Bayliss said. “[Northwestern] played a great match against Mississippi, who’s ranked No. 6 in the country. They just beat North Carolina, who’s No. 18. So we know we’ve got our hands full and we need to play really well.”The Irish have excelled on their home front this season, winning all but seven of their nine home matches so far. Their most impressive wins have come against two top-40 ranked foes – a 5-2 decision over then-No. 18 North Carolina and a 4-3 win over then-No. 40 Florida State.”I’m sure that every team is just a little more comfortable on their home courts,” Bayliss said. “It’ll be an advantage to be at home, but Northwestern has a terrific indoor facility. Their courts are about the same speed as ours so there really won’t be a big adjustment.”Northwestern will bring another top-40 challenge for the Irish. The Wildcats have gained a lot of experience competing against high-caliber teams. They also beat North Carolina and played four of their last five matches against top-25 teams. “It has to make you better,” Bayliss said. “I think you improve when you play better competition. So I know [Northwestern’s] a lot better than they were at the start of the year. If you look at their scores, they’ve jumped, and the team’s playing at a very high level.”The two teams have met frequently throughout the years. The Wildcats hold a 37-33 all-time advantage over the Irish. But Notre Dame won the most recent meeting between the two teams, escaping with a 5-2 decision last year in a close match at Northwestern.”Last year’s match was a barnburner,” Bayliss said. “We ended up winning a couple of three-setters late to sneak out of there with a win, but we were down most of the match and somehow ended up on top. It was one of the highlights of our season.”The stiffest challenge for the singles matches will come from Northwestern’s Tommy Hanus. The senior, who plays at the No. 1 spot for the Wildcats, lost 7-5 in the third set against Catalin Gard of Mississippi, the No. 1 singles player in the country, Tuesday.”I know Brent [D’Amico] will have to play extremely well to beat [Hanus],” Bayliss said. “But Brent’s playing good tennis right now, so we’ll see how it goes.”Notre Dame is coming off two solid performances last weekend, beating both Marquette and the University of Indianapolis in 7-0 decisions. The Irish only dropped one set on their way to the two victories. The two sweeps helped vault Notre Dame six spots in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s national rankings, from No. 29 to No. 23.The Irish will try to continue this winning streak tonight at 8 p.m. in the Eck Tennis Pavilion.