Men’s tennis visits Open

By Eric Chima

Illinois tennis players Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe spent the past weekend on an all-expenses-paid trip to the U.S. Open in New York, where they were housed at the Grand Hyatt, dined with the mayor, sat in the Presidential Suites for Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day, were honored at a luncheon and even had a private party at ESPNZone.

Life is good as national champions.

Anderson and Rowe were in New York to join the Intercollegiate Tennis Association College All-Star Team, an award given to just 13 men and 12 women nationwide. For the players, it was not just an honor, but a taste of the atmosphere they hope to eventually play in as pros.

“It’s great to see what it’s all about, just looking at center court and how amazing it would be to play there someday,” Anderson said. “It’s both awesome and inspiring at the same time.”

Past national champions, including former Illini doubles tandem Brian Wilson and Rajeev Ram and singles champion Amer Delic, parlayed their titles into a wildcard spot in the Open itself. But the United States Tennis Association (USTA) changed its rules in 2001 to “consider” awarding a wildcard to the national champions instead of automatically granting one, USTA Publicity Manager Tim Curry said.

Anderson and Rowe were passed over, in part, because Anderson is South African and the USTA prefers to award its native players. A seven-member committee selects the wildcard recipients, and though Curry said they would not automatically exclude foreign players, their criteria does take citizenship into account.

Both players felt they could have competed against the pros, given the opportunity.

“It’s definitely a different level, but at the same time, shot for shot, I don’t think we’re anywhere behind them,” Anderson said. “It’s all mental.”

Anderson and Rowe both said they hoped to eventually reach the Open as professional players after leaving college. In the meantime, they settled for a weekend in the city, leaving the blue courts of Arthur Ashe Stadium for Atkins Tennis Center in Champaign, where they are preparing to defend their title.

If all goes well, Coach Brad Dancer said, both Anderson and Rowe could make the ITA All-Star Team next year as both singles and doubles players.

“(The honor) was obviously just well-earned and well-deserved on their part because I think they outplayed most of the country in terms of doubles,” Dancer said. “It’s a feather in their cap, and now they have to look to go add another feather in their cap, both singles and more doubles accomplishments. They both can get a lot better.”

Whether the two surpass their past accomplishments or not, Rowe said he did not regret missing a shot at the Open.

“I still wouldn’t give up anything,” Rowe said. “I’d rather play with Kevin than anyone else.”