April 24, 2014
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The postseason road begins for the 41st-ranked Purdue women's tennis team Friday at the Big Ten Tournament hosted by Northwestern at the Vandy Christie Tennis Center in Evanston, Ill. With their 7-4 mark in conference play, the Boilermakers received the No. 4 seed in the tournament for a first-round bye into the quarterfinals Friday at 11 a.m. ET. Fifth-seeded Illinois and 12th-seeded Nebraska will battle in the first round on Thursday, with the winner advancing to face Purdue.
Joining the Boilermakers (11-9, 7-4 Big Ten) with first-round byes are Michigan, Northwestern and Ohio State. The Wolverines (19-3, 11-0 Big Ten) claimed the outright conference title, its fifth consecutive Big Ten Championship, and the No. 1 seed in the tournament. The Wildcats (16-6, 10-1 Big Ten) earned the No. 2 seed and the Buckeyes (18-7, 8-3 Big Ten) are seeded third.
In addition to Illinois and Nebraska, Purdue's half of the bracket includes No. 1 seed Michigan, No. 8 seed Michigan State and No. 9 seed Iowa. The Boilermakers defeated both of their potential opponents during the regular season. They toppled the Fighting Illini by a score of 5-2 on March 9 when the two teams were ranked Nos. 29 and 36, respectively. Purdue took the doubles point and posted singles victories at Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 5.
A month later and with a different lineup, the 37th-ranked Boilermakers cruised past Nebraska, 6-1. Other than taking No. 1 singles, the Huskers were dealt straight-set losses by Purdue's Nos. 2-6. They also captured the doubles point. Illinois beat Nebraska in their regular season meeting, 4-2, on April 13.
The Old Gold & Black enter the tournament on the heels of a 7-0 loss to Michigan on April 20. It was just the second shutout suffered by the Boilermakers this season. The Fighting Illini has won their last three matches, while the Huskers have lost their last 12.
Neither Illinois nor Nebraska boasts a ranked singles player or doubles team on their roster. Even though it has been close to a month since Mara Schmidt and Krisztina Kapitany have played side-by-side due to lineup changes as a result of injuries, the 10-5 pair has maintained a spot on the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's (ITA) rankings. They checked in at No. 58 in the newest edition released Tuesday.
Four Boilermakers have tallied 10-or more singles wins, led by freshman Andjela Djokovic with 14. Tess Bernard-Feigenbaum follows with 13, Kapitany has 12 and rookie Nicole Robinson has 10. Both Djokovic and Bernard-Feigenbaum posted an 8-3 record against Big Ten competition.
Since the doubles lineup was adjusted in early April, Bernard-Feigenbaum and Schmidt have gone 2-3 playing at No. 1, while Natalia Davila and Kapitany are 3-2 at No. 2. Claudia Escribens and Robinson have an extended history in the No. 3 spot with a mark of 7-5.
First round matches and quarterfinals will be contested at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday, respectively. The semifinals are set for Saturday at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., with the championship match slated for 1 p.m. Sunday. The tournament will feature eight nationally ranked teams and singles players, plus nine nationally ranked doubles teams.
Starting in 2009, the Big Ten's regular season winner was declared the Big Ten Champion and the tournament was used to determine the Big Ten Tournament Champion and NCAA automatic qualifier. Since then, Purdue is one of only two teams to capture the title. The Boilermakers won it all in 2012 when the event was hosted by Ohio State. Northwestern has claimed the four other tournament crowns, doing so in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013.
In the last five years of the tournament, Purdue has met Illinois in the quarterfinals four times. Last year's 4-1 win over the Illini in the quarterfinals was the first after losing to them in 2009, 2010 and 2011. The Boilermakers' bid to defend its title in 2013 ended one match later with a 4-0 loss in the semifinals to top-seeded Michigan.