Calkins makes the most of time at Illinois

Daily Illini File Photo

Daily Illini File Photo

By Amber Greviskes

Michael Calkins took a break from coaching tennis this week to get back to his true passion: playing tennis.

Calkins was successful too, advancing to the main draw of the ninth annual Northwestern Mutual/Wright Financial Group USTA Challenger, a professional event held at Illinois’ Atkins Tennis Center. Throughout the tournament, Calkins said he had benefited from his coaching experience.

While working as the student assistant coach for the Illinois men’s tennis team under head coach Craig Tiley and associate head coach Brad Dancer, Calkins had learned how to analyze matches, pick apart opponents and exploit their weaknesses. Instead of watching matches for fun, he creates mental scouting reports.

“I feel like I’ve become a better tennis player on the court just from picking up different techniques,” Calkins said. “I’m not afraid to just go out and watch matches.”

Calkins had also learned more about the behind-the-scenes work that coaches put in from recruiting to planning trips to tournaments. Now, however, he said he was ready to start playing professionally, a path that his former classmates Amer Delic, Phil Stolt and Brian Wilson have already embarked on.

“This has been a dream ever since I’ve been a little kid and now is the time to go out there and do it,” Calkins said.

His friends, like Travis Parrott, who won the doubles title at the eighth annual Northwestern Mutual/Wright Financial Group USTA Challenger, and former teammates are anxious for him to join the professional ranks as well.

“There’s going to be learning curves like there is for everybody, but hopefully he’ll come to some of the same tournaments that we’re at,” Parrott said. “And we’ll give him support and help him along the way.”

Mark Calkins, Michael’s older brother, remembered when Michael decided to turn his attention to tennis at age 10.

“He went strictly tennis, and he was playing all day every day,” Mark said.

When the Calkins brothers decided to go to college, they both looked at Big Ten schools and found a niche in the Midwest. Mark Calkins played baseball at Indiana for four years. Michael chose Illinois, where he would become an All-American, a national champion and help transform the Illinois tennis program.

“Mike means the world to this program; he is the definition of a hard worker,” said Illinois senior Evan Zeder. “He is always doing so much, whether he’s playing top of the lineup or not. He shows leadership and what it is like to go out there every day and really give it everything you’ve got.”

Junior Ryler DeHeart agreed that Calkins was irreplaceable.

“He is one of the most competitive people that I have ever known,” DeHeart said. “There is absolutely no one you would rather have on your team, especially when the match is on the line, than Michael Calkins.”

However, the impact the tennis program has had on Calkins and his family is more far-reaching than his honors or awards.

Calkins said the men who entered college their freshman year together would remain always the same tight-knit group they were while at Illinois.

“We’re always going to be those four guys that have spent four years together, with the ups and downs from freshman year to senior year,” said Calkins, who still keeps in contact with all of the men, especially Delic, his best friend and doubles partner at Illinois.

Mark Calkins knows Delic and the Illinois program have left a mark on his younger brother’s life as well.

“They’re the type of people that regardless of where they are in life when they see each other again, they pick up right where the left off,” Mark Calkins said. “That speaks volumes of Amer and Michael and their friendship.”

Michael Calkins also realized the benefits that came from attending school at Illinois and will return as often as possible for tournaments and alumni weekend.

“It’s something that I’m definitely going to miss. I’ll always want to come back and I will always come back,” he said. “You become so happy and proud of who you are – the clich‚, ‘You’re proud to be an Illini,’ is true. I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to be with for four years – the coaches especially.”