Team celebrates senior day victory

Brianna Knue returns the ball during a doubles match against Wisconsin at the Atkins Tennis Center on Sunday afternoon. Knue and her teammate, Shivani Dave, won the match 8-5. Beck Diefenbach

Brianna Knue returns the ball during a doubles match against Wisconsin at the Atkins Tennis Center on Sunday afternoon. Knue and her teammate, Shivani Dave, won the match 8-5. Beck Diefenbach

By Harini Ganesh

For senior Brianna Knue, senior day was a success. Knue won her doubles and singles matches, and her team took the match as well. Although the Illinois women’s tennis team lost to No. 9 Northwestern on Saturday, 6-1, it used a comeback to defeat Wisconsin, 4-3, Sunday.

“A lot of the matches were close,” Knue said of the team’s effort against Northwestern. “Honestly, we really are getting better with every match.”

Knue lost her singles match against Northwestern in straight sets to No. 24 Aleis Prousis, 6-2, 6-3. Against Wisconsin, she and freshman Shivani Dave’ won their doubles match, and Knue kept the momentum going to defeat Nicole Beck, 6-2, 6-1, in singles.

“I was pretty consistent with my groundstrokes,” she said. “I just stayed consistent and played within myself.”

Dave’ played strongly in the first set against Northwestern’s Feriel Esseghir. She won the first set but mentally broke down in the next set and the super tiebreaker, giving Esseghir the match, 6-2, 3-6, 0-1 (4).

“I was sticking to my game in the second set, (but) it went a bit bad for me,” she said. “I started getting negative, and let it keep building up.”

Dave’ defeated Wisconsin’s Morgan Tuttle, 6-0, 6-4, the next day. She tried to stay calm despite the tight second set and it paid off as she won the match.

“It proves that even though I lose or get down, I can still bounce back,” she said.

Illinois head coach Sujay Lama’s formula for the remainder of the regular season has been “to compete hard and give the best shot.” He saw the team play one of its best matches against Northwestern, despite the loss, he said.

“The kids battled and I’m just so happy,” Lama said. “They didn’t hang their head down, and they’ve inspired me with the way they’ve come every single day and looked forward to competing.”

One player who has been putting her best effort forward on the court is sophomore Macall Harkins. She defeated No. 8 Cristelle Grier of Northwestern, 6-7 (4), 6-0, 1-0 (8) and Wisconsin’s Kaylan Caiati, 7-5, 6-0, this weekend to give her a nine-match winning streak.

“I don’t think about it too much when I’m playing,” she said of her winning streak. “Every match is different, but at times it gives me confidence because I know I can play my game and beat top players.”

Her wins this weekend were not without struggle, though, as Harkins lost the first set to Grier and had to come back in the second set to keep control of the match. During the Wisconsin match, she had to battle the windy conditions and play a more offensive game to defeat Caiati.

The Illini have two more matches in the regular season before hosting the Big Ten tournament April 27-30. Next weekend they play at Minnesota and Iowa.

“We have to give it our best shot,” Lama said. “Progressively, in our last four matches, we’ve improved. We’ve got to maintain this and that’s the key.”