Spicijaric’s nets career-best second place at tournament

By Eric Chima

Marc Spicijaric finished as the runner-up Sunday in the Racquet Club Invitational in Midland, Texas, the best tournament finish of his collegiate tennis career.

Spicijaric lost a tight 6-4, 7-5 match to Bojan Szumanski of Texas Tech in the final round. The loss ended a nine-match winning streak for the sophomore, who beat his first four opponents at the Invitational in reaching the final. Spicijaric was unable to capitalize on any of his break points and lost two tough games on his serve to cost him the match.

“Szumanski made some big shots, so you’ve got to give him a lot of credit,” head coach Brad Dancer said. “He just played better on the big points.”

It took two tough three-setters for Spicijaric to even make the title match. In the semifinal, he won the first set against Dimitar Kutrovsky of Texas, then dropped the second 6-1. Spicijaric climbed back into the match in the third, hanging on to his serve to reach 3-3 before breaking Kutrovsky and pulling away for a 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 win.

Brandon Davis, the other Illini player at the Invitational, was not as successful. Davis lost a tough first round match to Clancy Shields of Boise State in a pair of tiebreakers, and then lost his second match, causing him to fall out of the tournament.

“Brandon made some big progress in his first match, and then he was just exhausted in the second,” Dancer said. “He was a little bit unlucky in the first round match. He was really doing the right things, it was just a matter of execution.”

While Spicijaric and Davis were representing the Illini in Texas, Ryan Rowe, GD Jones and Billy Heiser participated in a pre-qualifying tournament for the professional challenger event that will be held in November at Atkins Tennis Center.

None of the three players – heavily favored coming into the tournament – dropped a set until the semifinals, where Heiser, a freshman, was pitted against Jones, a senior. The pair produced some scintillating tennis, exchanging bludgeoned ground strokes and improbable returns. Jones jumped out to an early lead in each set, but Heiser clawed his way back in for a 7-5, 7-5 win.

“It was tough, but you can’t think about that. It’s just another guy on the other side of the net, and you have to battle no matter who it is,” Heiser said. “GD was picking up the pace a lot and I felt like in order to hang with him I had to step up my game a lot. He forced me to play some of the best tennis I’ve ever played.”

For Jones, the tournament featured his first match win since the NCAA tournament last spring. He has battled a variety of groin injuries ever since, and even had his wisdom teeth pulled the day before the tournament started.

“I was a little woozy out there at first,” Jones said. “I didn’t have very good timing at the beginning, but I got that out by the end of the first set. It was really good to be out there playing matches.”

The one player to reach the semifinals who was not on the Illinois tennis team was actually an Illinois student. Jordan Knue, the brother of a former Illinois women’s tennis player, entered the tournament and outperformed a field of collegiate tennis players to reach the final four of the event. Unfortunately for Knue, his opponent in the semis was Rowe, the defending champion. Despite struggling with his first serve, Rowe dominated the match and ran the harried Knue all over the court for a 6-0, 6-2 win.

“It’s cold out here, and it makes it hard to get up and hit the serve well,” Rowe said. “But I worked hard and the rest of my game was pretty effective.”

Rowe will face Heiser in the final Monday – a reprisal of last year’s event, when Rowe faced teammate Ruben Gonzales in the title match.

“It’s a lot of fun because you can go out there and play your best, and you know in the end an Illini is going to win,” Rowe said.