Defending doubles champion advances

By Amber Greviskes

Michael Calkins and Amer Delic have not played singles together since November of last year, but Monday night at the Atkins Tennis Center the two took the courts together again.

Calkins and Delic were All-Americans at Illinois, but unfortunately for them, could not capitalize on that success during their first-round doubles match at the United States Tennis Association Challenger of Champaign-Urbana.

The two succumbed to Justin Gimelstob and former Illini Rajeev Ram. Ram, one of the defending Challenger doubles champions, and Gimelstob, one of the world’s top doubles players, won 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4).

The men’s disappointing result did not affect the excitement Calkins felt about playing with his former teammate.

“It’s always fun to play with Amer, seeing the strides he has made as a tennis player,” Calkins said. “We just had little misses and hiccups that cost you a set, which showed tonight.”

Despite a doubles match that pitted two former Illini against another, most fans showed some favoritism for the duo of Calkins and Delic.

Calkins and Delic both played for the Illini longer than Ram – Calkins was a member of the team for four years and Delic for three. Ram competed for the Illini for one semester in 2003, when the team won the NCAA title and Ram clinched the Big Ten tournament title at Northwestern.

“It’s tough to play on home territory and not feel the complete crowd support,” Ram said.

Calkins and Delic also drew fans to the tournament by speaking to a first-grade class at South Side Elementary School during the day before their evening competition.

Calkins said speaking with the first-grade children, who were able to ask questions of the professionals, was entertaining and fun.

“(Extra activities are) one of the different things about coming back and playing in front of a crowd that you know is cheering for you,” Calkins said.

Ram, however, will most likely have complete crowd support tonight when he plays the tournament’s No.1 seed, Hyung-Taik Lee of Korea.

“It’s a great opportunity for me,” said Ram, who defeated the top seed in last week’s challenger. “Hopefully, we can get it done again.”

Delic, a singles semifinalist last year, will also compete tonight against Michael Russell, not before 6:30.

Illinois senior Ryler DeHeart was well supported during his match, following the Gimelstob and Ram victory over Calkins and Delic.

DeHeart lost to professional Brian Baker 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (5). Baker was Ram’s doubles partner last year, but will not compete in doubles this year because of a hip injury.

“He came up with the goods at the end,” DeHeart said. “I think I should have won, but that’s how the cookie crumbles, I guess.”

DeHeart is expected to compete in doubles with senior Pramod Dabir on Wednesday. Former Illinois tennis player Brian Wilson played in singles Monday night as well. His results were not available at press time.

The only current Illini playing tonight will be Kevin Anderson.

Anderson will play Jan-Michael Gambill in one of the night’s last matches. Gambill has been ranked as high as No. 14 in the world. That career-high ranking came in June 2001.

Anderson, however, said he will treat today’s contest like any other match.

“I gained some confidence over the weekend (playing in qualifying),” Anderson said. “I’m just going to come and be ready to go. I’m going to go out there and play my game and be really aggressive – I’m just going to go out there and give it everything.”