Illinois topples Harvard despite illness

By Amber Greviskes

The Illinois men’s tennis team overcame multiple obstacles this weekend, but on Saturday night the toughest hurdle the Illini faced may have been themselves.

Battling fatigue and sickness, the Illini took the court to top No. 51 Harvard 7-0 at the Atkins Tennis Center.

“The guys hung in there,” said Illinois assistant coach Kent Kinnear. “And 7-0 was closer than 7-0 – against Harvard in particular.”

Illinois took an early lead by winning the doubles point. Sophomores Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe clinched the point for the Illini with their 8-2 victory over Sasha Ermakov and Ashwin Kumar.

The sophomores’ doubles performance has steadily improved over the past weeks. They were moving well at the net in the beginning of the season and have gradually improved their return to serve, Anderson said.

Rowe had an impressive performance as well, overcoming illness to play doubles. He found out approximately one week ago that he had pneumonia, he said.

Rowe had played both doubles and singles in the morning, but his doctor prohibited him from playing in the singles match against Harvard.

“You have to be there for the team when you’re needed,” Rowe said. “They needed me out there in the morning, so they put me out there and I did what I needed to do.”

The win should help position the duo near the top of the national rankings the next time they are released.

“Obviously, the win is good for our ranking,” Rowe said. “It is always good to beat someone that is higher ranked than you.”

Although Illinois’ top doubles team was impressive, it was the play of junior GD Jones and senior Pramod Dabir that was most promising.

The Illini have struggled at the No. 3 doubles spot this season, but Jones and Dabir looked strong, beating Brian Wan and Dan Nguyen 8-3.

“The guys made a lot of returns and a lot of first serves,” Kinnear said. “We were happy to see that – we need that down there.”

In singles, the Illini were just as dominant. Anderson won his singles match handily against Kumar as well. He topped Kumar 6-4, 6-2; but it was Illinois junior GD Jones, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, who clinched the win for the Illini. Jones beat Ermakov 6-3, 6-1.

Sophomore Ruben Gonzales put the finishing touches on the night with a win over Christopher Clayton. Gonzales won 7-4, 7-6(5).

“Ruben was tired, but he kept hanging in there,” Kinnear said. “The guys showed a lot of character and I was proud of them.”

Although the Illini had a long day on Saturday – the squad finished up their match against Harvard approximately 12 hours after they started their match against Clemson – the coaches were proud of the team’s results. Kinnear is also excited about the team’s outlook heading into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Men’s Team Indoor Championships.

“They’re strong, they’re fit,” Kinnear said. “With a couple days to recoup they are going to be ready.”