Tennis fends off Purdue

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By Derek Barichello

Women’s tennis refused to lose on Saturday and started their Big Ten season on the right foot with a win over No. 42 Purdue, 4-3.

The Illini had to fight from behind early on in doubles. With the first two doubles matches ending in a split, it all came down to the second-seeded match for the doubles point.

Junior Brianna Knue and freshman Macall Harkins, who are rated No. 54 in the country, fell behind 7-6 and fought off two match points by their opponents to come away victorious and give the Illini the early lead.

Head coach Sujay Lama and assistant coach JoAnne Russell made the theme coming into Saturday’s match the “unwillingness to be defeated,” which came from a book they both read called Si-Su. Knue and Harkins’ doubles match was a classic example of the Illini putting the lesson into practice.

“Brianna and Macall were down two match points and refused to lose,” Lama said. “If we lose that doubles point, we lose this match.”

The Illini continued to fight through adversity in singles. At No. 2, Harkins found herself playing catch-up again, this time from a second-set defeat, to win the match in three sets. At No. 3, freshman Momei Qu did the same thing, coming back after dropping her first set and winning the next two.

The two singles victories, along with No. 36 Cynthya Goulet’s win over No. 76 Hala Sufi 6-2, 6-4, propelled the Illini to the win.

“We showed a lot of heart, fight and desire,” Lama said. “The neat thing on Saturday is that it came out of freshmen. It shows our freshmen can get it done.”

For the Illini, the 4-3 victory was its fifth match decided by a point this season. Earlier in the season, Lama said for the Illini to be successful they are going to have to find ways to win the close matches.

“It all comes down to who wants it more,” Lama said. “We learned on Saturday that you have to grind it out. It gave us confidence.”

The win put the Illini on the right track. One of the team’s goals this spring is to win the Big Ten, and last season the team fell short by a game. One of their two conference losses came at the hands of Purdue.

“We needed this one,” Lama said. “It gave us a good start to the Big Ten season. Purdue beat us last season, and we only had two losses last year in the conference. We want to win a Big Ten championship, and there is no doubt about it that Purdue will be in the upper echelon in the Big Ten, so that gives us a heads up on them.”

Despite coming away with the win, the Illini are still looking for production out of the bottom of their singles lineup.

“We have so much talent at the bottom of the lineup,” Lama said. “We continue to get no production. We know we are capable of getting more, and this is probably the deepest we’ve ever been.”

The Illini will return to action March 19-21 when they travel to the Georgia Tech Invitational. Lama said the team will use the time it has off to work on their fitness and conditioning.