U.S. Open propels former Illinois atheletes towards future

By Amber Greviskes

For several former Illinois tennis players, the U.S. Open was a chance to gauge improvements – and lingering weaknesses – since their jump to the professional level approximately one year ago.

When Amer Delic and Rajeev Ram played in last year’s Open, they were coming off collegiate seasons that included an NCAA team title. Delic also had an NCAA singles title. Ram had a doubles crown. They were given wildcards by virtue of those wins.

This year, when the men received wildcards into the tournament, they had already proven themselves at the professional level. Delic won the USTA Futures tournament in Auburn, Calif. Ram won the doubles title at the USTA Challenger in Denver and was the singles runner-up at the Little Rock, Ark., Futures tournament.

“It’s a little different now,” Ram said. “We’re doing this full-time now. We’re on our own.”

They may be on their own, but they haven’t stopped training and traveling together.

The men train with former Vanderbilt standout Bobby Reynolds and 19-year-old Brian Baker, who skipped college to compete professionally. They have formed a pack, much like the promising Americans before them: James Blake, Mardy Fish, Robby Ginepri, Taylor Dent, Brian Vahaly and Andy Roddick, who have remained friends despite competing against each other regularly.

Dean Goldstine and Ricardo Acuna now coach Delic and Ram from the stands, whereas Illinois head coach Craig Tiley and former Illinois associate head coach Bruce Berque used to evaluate the men’s performances from the sidelines.

Their progress is evident.

Delic advanced to the second round of the singles tournament by defeating Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia and Montenegro 6-1, 6-3, 6-4. It took a four-set match against Carlos Moya of Spain, the tournament’s No.3 seed to defeat Delic.

Moya topped Delic 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, in a late-night match at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the premier site for tennis competition in the United States.

Each session at Arthur Ashe Stadium can hold more than 23,000 fans. Last year, over the two-week duration of the tournament, over 615,400 people attended the U.S. Open. The Atkins Tennis Center, the home of the men’s collegiate courts, is at capacity with less than 1,000.

“The courts (at the U.S. Open) are always packed, especially if there is an American playing on one of them,” Ram said. “It can be overwhelming. It’s easier to get distracted and kind of intimidating.”

The men held their ground.

Ram and Baker advanced to the second round of the doubles tournament. They defeated Americans Vahid Mirzadeh and Phillip Simmonds 6-2, 6-3. The duo lost to France’s Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut 6-2, 6-4.

Graydon Oliver, one of Illinois’ first doubles champions in 2000, also advanced further in the tournament than before. Oliver reached the third round of doubles. The third-seeded duo of Mark Knowles of the Bahamas and Daniel Nestor of Canada defeated Oliver and partner Justin Gimelstob 6-2, 6-1.

With their stint at the U.S. Open complete, the men will return to competing and focusing on the future improvements they need to make. After all, Ram said, for the men, the U.S. Open “had more to do with how (they) were playing and how it could help (them) in the future.”