Men’s tennis team sweeps Wildcats

GD Jones returns against Kentucky at Atkins Tennis Center Wednesday. Jones won his singles match 1-6, 6-4, 10-5, in the 7-0 Illini victory. Beck Diefenbach

GD Jones returns against Kentucky at Atkins Tennis Center Wednesday. Jones won his singles match 1-6, 6-4, 10-5, in the 7-0 Illini victory. Beck Diefenbach

By Jim Shay

Even while their opponents shouted in anger, groaned in disappointment and howled with pain, the men’s tennis team kept their cool as the Illini had one thing on their mind: sweep.

After a rare weekday afternoon appearance at the Atkins Tennis Center, the visiting Kentucky Wildcats were sent home with a 7-0 loss at the hands of the Illini.

With the match already clinched for the Illini, it seemed the Wildcats would be in position to salvage the two remaining singles points as Kentucky had earned first set victories at both the No. 2 and No. 6 spots. As far as senior GD Jones and freshman Jordan Knue were concerned, though, their respective matches were far from over.

Knue and Jones stormed back to win their second sets, and both turned their newfound momentum into tiebreaker victories to seal the sweep for the Illini.

For Jones, the ability to progressively wear down Kentucky’s Peter Bjork was key to his 1-6, 6-4, 10-5 victory.

“I think the whole match was a process of breaking him down,” Jones said. “(Bjork) didn’t make a lot of mistakes in the first set, we had a lot of long rallies and close games, but I was making him run a lot. I think there was a certain point in the second set where he sort of broke down a little bit, maybe got a little tired and made some errors.”

“I got a little bit better, started concentrating a little harder, and it was a little easier after that,” Jones said.

Though the Illini played exceptionally well in clinching all three doubles matches, they did receive some help from the injury bug, which plagued the Wildcats and forced two of their players to cut their singles matches short.

Junior Kevin Anderson earned a victory in his first set when his opponent, Marcus Sundh, retired with an injury to his left forearm.

Minutes later, Kentucky’s Roman Ogarkov was also forced to retire when he collapsed in pain after rolling his ankle attempting to return a shot from junior Brandon Davis.

A dominating performance by junior Ryan Rowe, who locked up his match 6-0, 6-1, combined with an equally impressive showing by sophomore Marc Spicijaric in a 6-3, 6-0 victory over Kentucky’s Shane Collins, left the shorthanded Wildcats with no hope for a comeback.

For Knue, the atmosphere of the afternoon match forced many players to conjure up their own means for motivation.

“It’s a little different because there were not as many people,” Knue said.

“There was not as much energy so you have to work a little bit harder to bring your own energy up because the crowd isn’t going to help much with that,” Knue said.

The decisive victory was even more impressive considering the Illini are still without the services of junior Ruben Gonzales, who continues to be sidelined with an undisclosed injury.

Brad Dancer stressed how the weeks to come will be important for both physical and mental improvement as the playoffs draw closer.

“We should be getting crisper and crisper in terms of what we’re able to do,” Dancer said. “I think the biggest thing is we have to stay healthy. Ruben’s going to have to get some matches under his belt when he gets back to really feel like he’s at playing speed. Probably, more important than anything, we need to just keep everyone on the same page.”