Illini begin main draw competition

Ryan Rowe hits a baseline shot during practice at Atkins Tennis Center on Sept. 13. Nick Kohout

Ryan Rowe hits a baseline shot during practice at Atkins Tennis Center on Sept. 13. Nick Kohout

By Amber Greviskes

Senior Ryler DeHeart was a virtual unknown amongst collegiate tennis players a year ago.

After claiming the Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Indoor singles title last November and becoming an All-American in May, he has usurped the top place in college tennis.

His career-high No.1 ranking has also made him the No.1-seeded main draw player at the Polo Ralph Lauren/ITA All-American Championships in Tulsa, Okla. Main draw action begins today at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center, featuring two Illini in the singles competition: DeHeart and Illinois sophomore Kevin Anderson.

None of the four Illinois singles players who attempted to qualify for the main draw of the tournament reached the main draw. Only Illinois senior Pramod Dabir reached the second round of the singles qualifying tournament. He lost to Stanford’s Matt Burch 6-0, 6-4.

“They were hard losses for us because we were in control of each match but we failed to finish,” Illinois head coach Brad Dancer said in a press release after Monday’s first-round qualifying action.

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    Illinois’ lone doubles team of Marc Spicijaric and Ruben Gonzales that competed in qualifying advanced to the main draw by winning three qualifying matches, including victories over Florida State’s Ytai Abougzir and Maciek Sykut 8-6, as well as Oklahoma State’s Daniel Brynes and Felipe Diaz 8-6. The duo topped Nate Emge and Alex Hume by walkover. Dancer said that although he is pleased the men reached the main draw, he still sees room for improvement. Spicijaric, however, said he is pleased to just reach the main draw.

    “Ruben and I are playing really well for not having played together,” Spicijaric said. “I’m happy that we have played together and we’re ready to show that we deserve to be in the main draw.”

    Although the Illini are among some of the top competitors in the draw, Dancer said he is more concerned with their ability to show improvement since their last tournament than their actual results. DeHeart will take on Oklahoma’s Marek Velicka in the first round. Anderson will face Bojan Szumanski of Texas Tech.

    “I’m working on being more aggressive generally,” Anderson said. “And just go out there with a very aggressive mindset, and just take it one match at a time.”

    Anderson’s ability to focus on one match at a time will be critical, especially since he has had some problems with his knee this past week. But Anderson said he is treating the Polo Ralph Lauren/ITA All-American Championships like any other tournament.

    “At the end of the day, it is just another tennis ball,” Anderson said.

    DeHeart may have a harder time focusing. He is also returning to the Michael D. Case Tennis Center for the first time in collegiate competition since Illinois lost to UCLA in the semi-finals of the 2004 NCAA Championships. He has also never been the top seed at an individual tournament of this magnitude before. Last year, he reached the main draw through the qualifying draw, and DeHeart said he was excited to start the main draw fresh this season.

    The men will team up to compete in doubles for the remainder of the tournament as well. Originally, DeHeart was scheduled to compete in doubles with Dabir, but Dabir was forced to pull out of the tournament. The duo will take on Middle Tennessee’s Brandon Allan and Kai Schledorn.

    Dancer said he expects DeHeart and Anderson to perform well this weekend.

    “You can feel the energy here,” Dancer said. “I have really high expectations those two.”

    Anderson said he is excited about the opportunity to compete in doubles with DeHeart.

    “(DeHeart) is absolutely a great guy to practice with,” Anderson said. “He brings everything to every practice. He’s a great player, and I’m just looking forward to going down there with him, competing with him and maybe, hopefully, we’ll see each other in the finals.”