Tennis wins home opener

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By Amber Greviskes

Illinois defeated No. 41 Florida State Friday night, though not in the manner Illinois head coach Craig Tiley is used to.

For the second straight week, the Illini dropped the doubles point, entering singles competition with a one-point deficit. The Illinois team, however, used the deficit as motivation. The men bounced back to win the match 5-2.

“Coming into the match I was a little uncertain about some things and (about) how some people were going to play, but that’s why you play these matches – to find out,” Tiley said. “We haven’t gotten over the hump in doubles, but we’ve got some good singles players -they really picked it up.”

Among the athletes who put together impressive wins for the Illini was the freshman trio of Kevin Anderson, Ruben Gonzales and Monte Tucker. Each of the freshmen defeated their opponents in straight sets.

For Gonzales, it was his first victory of the dual-match season. He defeated Sam Chang 6-3, 6-3. Gonzales said he did not find out he was going to play until after the Illini lost the doubles point.

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“Everyone was ready and when they called my name – that I was going to play – I was really excited,” Gonzales said. “From the first point I could feel all of the energy and I was pretty excited and I fed off of it.”

Gonzales said that the atmosphere at the Atkins Tennis Center was much different than the atmosphere when the team played at the Muncie YMCA against Ball State last weekend. The fans that filled the Atkins Tennis Center motivated the athletes to perform their best.

“At the end, I was really happy,” Gonzales said. “But it was almost a relief to get a win under your belt.”

Anderson said he was pleased with the team’s singles performance, despite their slow start. Although the team was a little down after losing the doubles point, he said he was impressed that everyone was able to refocus on singles so quickly.

Anderson, who lost his doubles match, went on to win his singles match against Chris Westerhof, 6-2, 6-2. Although Westerhof and Anderson are both from South Africa, the two had never played against each other before.

“I’m just pleased that I got the win,” Anderson said. “I’ve never played (Westerhof) before, so it was just another match.”

Although they are pleased with the final results this weekend, Tiley and the upperclassmen know the season is far from over, and the team will have to make a lot of improvements to maintain the same level of success it experienced in the past.

One area of improvement the Illini will need to focus on is their doubles performance, said Illinois junior Ryler DeHeart. Illinois will be tested again next weekend when they play Duke and Texas, two teams that have traditionally strong programs.

“The rest of the season is going to be all uphill from here,” DeHeart said.

The heart of a champion

Illinois junior Pramod Dabir was not victorious in either of his matches Friday night, but his teammates still consider him a winner.

With Dabir leading his singles match 5-4 in the first set, he rolled his ankle. Despite hearing a pop and tremendous swelling, Dabir still continued to play – his team had lost the doubles point and the result of the singles matches was still uncertain.

Despite limping throughout the remainder of the first set, and with tremendous crowd support, Dabir continued to play, forcing the first set of his match to a tiebreaker. He won the first set 7-6 (4).

DeHeart said Dabir’s willingness to fight through the pain was crucial to the team’s success and enabled the other members of the team to compete even harder.

“Most people, when they turn their ankle that badly; would have called it quits,” DeHeart said. “Having him out there for the whole team was really important, to know that he was still fighting and competing really well no matter what.”

Tiley has come to expect that dedication from Dabir. He said he forced the junior to quit competing when the result of the match was clear.

“I went to him and said you need to come off now because you can’t walk,” Tiley said. “He wanted to finish though, because that is his personality, and that is why he is a fighter and a winner.”