Illinois to play last home matches

Illinois to play last home matches

By Harini Ganesh

The Illinois women’s tennis team serves it up for its last home matches of the regular season against No.9 Northwestern on Saturday and Wisconsin on Sunday at the Atkins Tennis Center.

Last weekend, the Illini played road games at both Michigan State and Michigan. Coming off four straight losses, Illinois head coach Sujay Lama had the team focus on two things: put in its best effort and fight hard.

“Last week’s formula really worked well,” he said. “And we want to come well prepared and fight as hard as we can.”

Illinois won its first Big Ten match of the season against Michigan State. Although it lost to Michigan, Lama saw the improvement in his team. He currently has his players focusing on the basic techniques and perfecting those skills. Instead of thinking about winning, he wants them to stay in the present and relax, to take the pressure off from thinking about winning.

“We have to give our best effort,” he said. “I believe when we do that, we are able to play freely and we have to do that to play to the best of our ability.”

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The Illini have played against top-ranked teams throughout the season and most of the players have battled their best against higher-ranked players and not come away with wins. Despite that, sophomore Alejandra Meza Cuadra feels that everyone has stepped up and given her best.

“We showed we can win our matches,” she said of defeating Michigan State. “Even though against Michigan we lost 6-1, our matches were close.”

She added that the players need to believe in themselves and this weekend is a chance to show their opponents they can win.

“We have a good opportunity to show we can beat a good team,” she said of Northwestern. “We need to take the opportunity and close the match.”

Illinois has defeated Northwestern three times in seven meetings. The Wildcats have also won six Big Ten titles in the past seven years.

“Northwestern has set a bar in the Big Ten,” Lama said. “It’s been a good rivalry and at home it’s always been a tough match, and we’re looking forward to that. We have nothing to lose.”

This weekend is not only the last home match of the season for the team, but also the last home match of senior Brianna Knue’s college career. Knue’s record this season has been up and down but she plans to go into the coming matches and give a 100 percent effort.

“We’re going to compete our hearts out,” she said. “We have to focus on ourselves. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing.”

She added that to succeed, each player should not get down on herself and must stay in the moment. She said that if there are opportunities, they should seize them.

Lama said that the team has to assert confidence and be aggressive.

“We have to take it to them early on and don’t give them any comfort level,” he said.