Eight-time Big Ten champs host Florida State tonight

By Amber Greviskes

The Illinois men’s tennis team knows they can take nothing for granted tonight.

Tonight at 7:30 a “much-improved” Florida State team will enter the Atkins Tennis Center to face the Illini, Illinois head coach Craig Tiley said.

Last year, the competition was tough – the teams were tied with two points a piece before Brian Wilson put the Illini ahead for good. This season, Tiley said, the match might be even more hotly contested.

“We got lucky to get out of that match (last year) and win that match,” Tiley said. “I think they’re an improved team from last year and we’re a new team from last year.”

Florida State enters the competition ranked 41st. The Illini are No.5. But the Illinois athletes are ignoring the rankings. Florida State returns two-time ACC Player of the Year Mat Cloer and is undefeated heading into the match.

“The rankings, at the moment, don’t mean anything,” said Illinois sophomore GD Jones. “We’re treating this very much as a Top 10-match.”

The Illini are looking forward to the competition, especially with the home crowd advantage they have at the Atkins Tennis Center. They have a 33-match winning streak dating back to March 7, 2002 at their home courts.

“We haven’t really experienced that (fan) support in many months since NCAAs,” Jones said. “So I think we’re all really, really excited.”

The Illinois freshmen, who will play in their first match at the Atkins Tennis Center, are excited too. Player Brandon Davis had never seen an Illinois match before last weekend and is even more excited about the chance to compete in front of the Illinois fans. Although the Illini are the two-time defending Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Indoor Team Champions, the support he has seen from the students is uncharacteristic of what other teams experience.

“Loud fans, when they’re on your side, it’s great,” Davis said. “It gives you a lot of energy and pumps you up and it’s fun to play in front of.”

In juniors, the level the freshmen had played at before their collegiate debut, there were few fans except parents. Parents would clap or scream words of encouragement, there were not hundreds of orange-clad supporters watching every court.

The fans, Jones said, will help the Illini from starting out flat tonight, like they did last weekend against Ball State in doubles.

“If you’re flat then there is no excuse,” Jones said.

Tiley is not worried about the men’s unusually slow start in doubles last week either. Instead, he said, the team will spend some time working out the problems in practice and “have the potential to be very good doubles players and a doubles team” by the end of the year.

“Whether it comes out this weekend, or whether it comes out later, at some point it’s going to come out,” Tiley said of his young team. “I expect us to be very competitive, I expect us to be very good and hold our position and stature nationally.”