Men’s tennis dominates field at Treibly Challenge

Marc Spicijaric returns a volley to Minnesota on Saturday at the Atkins Tennis Center. Jamey Fenske, The Daily Illini

Marc Spicijaric returns a volley to Minnesota on Saturday at the Atkins Tennis Center. Jamey Fenske, The Daily Illini

By Eric Chima

The Illinois men’s tennis team played without their three highest-ranked players at the Treibly Challenge in Bradenton, Fla., this weekend, but that did not stop them from dominating the inaugural edition of the event.

With Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe playing at the All-American Championships in Oklahoma and G.D. Jones out with an injury, the Illini might have been excused if they had dropped a few matches to the tough field. But even without them, junior Brandon Davis, sophomore Marc Spicijaric and freshman Billy Heiser combined to go 18-2 over three days, including a perfect 5-0 mark in doubles play.

Spicijaric and Heiser led the way for the Illini, winning all 15 matches they played in. For Spicijaric, it was the turnaround he was hoping for after struggling in the early stages of the fall tennis season.

“I basically controlled all my matches and played them how I wanted to play,” Spicijaric said. “I still didn’t play my best, but I got the wins and worked on a few things, so I have to consider it a pretty successful week.”

Heiser won five singles matches to remain undefeated for his college career, but made his real progress in doubles play. After struggling to make the transition to the collegiate doubles game earlier this season, he made it look a lot easier with a pair of wins Saturday, including a dominant 8-1 victory with Spicijaric over Matt Bain and John Nallon of Texas A&M.; In the process, coach Brad Dancer said, Heiser began to develop his forehand into a real weapon to win points.

“I definitely feel like when I get a forehand in the point I can take control of the point,” Heiser said. “I thought my opening match I started pretty slow, really tight and tentative . and I wasn’t swinging out on my shots like I normally do. But I got better every match.”

For Davis, the early part of the weekend came with mixed results and a 2-2 singles record. But he went undefeated in doubles play and, like the rest of the team, stepped up his singles game on Sunday, Dancer said.

“We had a really good finish to the tournament today,” Dancer said. “There were a lot of close matches today where the guys hung in there, stayed strong and then pulled away at the end.”

Though no champion was crowned at the Treibly Challenge, the Illini beat every school they played against on the weekend. Dancer preferred to talk about performance instead of results.