Duo advances to nationals

By Amber Greviskes

The Illinois men’s tennis team has a tradition of excellence in the Midwest and this year was no exception.

For the third time in as many years, an Illinois team won the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Midwest Regional Championship when sophomore Monte Tucker and freshman Marc Spicijaric defeated Illini senior Pramod Dabir and sophomore Brandon Davis 8-6. Previous winners included last year’s champions GD Jones and Ryler DeHeart. In 2003, Chris Martin and Michael Calkins won the title.

But, Tucker said, the previous Illini’s success hardly fazed the current Illini. Instead, he said, the duo focused on executing well throughout the tournament.

“We were hoping to win when we started the tournament,” Tucker said. “Now we just have to keep up the winning streak at nationals.”

By virtue of their win, the duo will head to the ITA National Indoor Championships in Columbus, Ohio. All singles champions and finalists from each region, doubles champions and other top singles and doubles performers from around the country are invited to the ITA National Indoor Championships each year.

Illinois senior Ryler DeHeart, who won the ITA National Indoor Singles title last year, will accompany the duo to Ohio as well to defend his title.

Spicijaric said he is already excited about the national event.

“It will be an awesome opportunity,” he said.

Spicijaric also believes that time is on the Illini’s side. The men got better with each match they played throughout the week. Now, he said, they will have extra time to make improvements and adjustments before the national tournament. The young Illini also said he enjoyed getting a taste of the Ohio State rivalry.

Ohio State is the only team that has beaten Illinois in the season-ending Big Ten tournament since the Illini began their reign as the top Big Ten team in the mid-90s. The Illini lost to the Buckeyes at the 2001 Big Ten tournament.

But, Illinois head coach Brad Dancer said, he was most impressed by the men’s ability to respond well in doubles after a less than inspiring singles performance.

Only sophomore Ruben Gonzales was able to advance to the Round of 16 at the tournament – last year DeHeart won the event.

“We had a good recovery from the guys after some disappointing losses in singles,” Dancer said. “I’m happy in the way the guys responded after a sub-par performance and it’s exciting to see the guys do so well in doubles.”

This is the second doubles title for Spicijaric and Tucker since they began competing together this season. The men also won the title at the Alabama Crimson Tide Fall Tournament.

“Marc and Monte have incredible chemistry together on the court,” assistant coach Kent Kinnear said.

Tucker said the most valuable part of the trip was learning how to respond to adversity when the duo played Ohio State’s Chris Klingemann and Devin Mullings 9-8(4) to reach the semifinals of the tournament, after being down 7-3.

“It just proved that if we compete to the end things will eventually come together,” Tucker said.

“You just have to keep fighting and keep competing until the end.”