Home court key to dominance

 

 

By Jim Shay

As the Kentucky men’s tennis team makes the 300-mile journey to Urbana for Wednesday afternoon’s match, they must be aware of how perilous the courts of the Atkins Tennis Center can be when the Illini are hungry for a win.

Sporting a perfect 7-0 record at home this season, the men’s tennis team will be looking to rebound from a tough loss to No. 5 Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., on Sunday.

Weekday matches are relatively few and far between for the Illini this spring, and coach Brad Dancer emphasized the challenge the team faces playing on such short rest.

“This next match comes up quick,” Dancer said. “We really need to play matches like this where it’s two days on, two days off and then back on again. It’ll be a challenge for us in that sense. When you play a home match during the week you have classes in the morning, you’re used to coming up to practice, and then you’ve got a match that sneaks up on you. It’s a different mindset for us in terms of how we do things.”

The Illini have missed the presence of junior Ruben Gonzales, who played as high as the No. 2 singles spot earlier in the season. He is still sidelined with an undisclosed injury.

Though his return from the sidelines is on the horizon, his teammates have succeeded in elevating their individual play in hopes of better coping with Gonzales’ absence from the lineup.

Junior Ryan Rowe praised the efforts of freshman Jordan Knue and junior Brandon Davis, who have combined to form a winning No. 3 doubles combination for the Illini.

“I think both of them are starting to play some better tennis,” Rowe said. “Jordan got his first dual match win against Northwestern, so that was great. He’s improved a lot and has been coming out and playing some good doubles. Brandon keeps improving everyday. I think they’re getting more comfortable having to play higher in the lineup.”

The No. 56 Wildcats, who field a top-25 doubles team of junior Will Ward and senior Peter Bjork, will be looking to give the No. 8 Illini squad all they can handle.

Though Dancer notes that Kentucky is a talented team, he sees the match as an opportunity for his team to make the proper adjustments and solidify their standing among the elite schools in collegiate tennis with a win.

“(Kentucky) has an extremely talented player at the No. 1 spot and other good players throughout their lineup,” Dancer said. “They have a bunch of new guys that I don’t know that well, and that makes me nervous. Right now I think it’s a good situation for us.”