Men’s tennis experiences bittersweet invitational in Napa

By Eric Chima

The Illinois men’s tennis team started their season off with mixed results at the Napa Valley Invitational this weekend, going just 7-6 in singles play but nearly sweeping the doubles competition.

The Illini faced three teams ranked in the top 25 at the end of last season in a series of tough individual matches. Among the leaders for the Illini was junior Kevin Anderson, who went 3-0 in singles and 2-0 in doubles, knocking off one of the top players in the country in the process.

Anderson, ranked No. 17, defeated No. 8 Erling Tveit of Missouri, 6-2 on Friday in his first match of the new season. On Sunday, sophomore Marc Spicijaric nearly up-ended Tveit himself, holding match points in the second set before succumbing in a deciding tiebreaker.

“I’m not overly concerned with the rankings,” Anderson said. “I played a good match. I served very well that day, he gave me a couple loose points here and there, and I took my chances when I had them.”

Coach Brad Dancer had a slightly simpler explanation for Anderson’s lopsided win against Tveit.

“(Tveit) is a great player, but he just wasn’t ready for the match-up with Kevin quite yet.”

Anderson and Spicijaric teamed up in doubles for a pair of victories over the weekend, while Ryan Rowe- Anderson’s partner in winning the national doubles championship last season – paired with Brandon Davis for another two wins.

Once dual matches start in the spring, the Illini will have to win two out of three doubles matches to be successful. To that end, Dancer said he would frequently have Rowe and Anderson play with different partners.

“It’s one of those things that they’re going to play together at times, and they won’t play together at times,” Dancer said. “We try to bring everyone along together as doubles players. Bottom line, we’re trying to put three great doubles teams out on the court this spring.”

The only blemish on the Illini’s doubles record in California was a close loss Sunday by Davis and freshman Billy Heiser, who was playing in his first collegiate doubles match.

“College doubles is a little different from what I’m used to playing,” Heiser said. “The intensity level is different, the points are a lot quicker. Brandon played a hell of a match and really pulled me through it. It’s something I can definitely improve on.”

Heiser fared better in singles, where he went 2-0 in his first two matches as an Illini. One of the differences between college tennis and juniors is that coaches are allowed to help the players on-court, and Heiser credited Dancer and assistant Kent Kinnear for helping him get through his matches.

“Coaching on the court was a big change for me, and it was a big advantage, especially when I was a little doubtful,” Heiser said. “They told me a gameplan to stick to and a few patterns to go with. We tried to make it as boring as possible for the other guy and as simple as possible for me.”

Dancer said he was impressed by Heiser’s efforts and his maturity on the court, but was reluctant to praise his team’s play.

He said the entire team needed to work on returning serve and transitioning to the net, along with a host of individual improvements.

“There were positive signs, seeing their progression out there, but there’s a litany of things (they) need improvement on,” Dancer said. “There were some things that were done fairly well, but I don’t think there’s anybody that really stood out as awesome over the course of the weekend.”