UPDATE: Tennis caps season with second place-finish in nation

By Steve Contorno

Following a remarkable postseason run, the Illinois men’s tennis team fell short of winning the NCAA championship as a No. 10 seed.

The Illini lost to No. 1-ranked Georgia 4-0 – an undefeated squad playing in its second straight NCAA championship. As the tournament host, the Bulldogs had the benefit of playing in front of their home crowd in Athens, Ga.

Bottom line, head coach Brad Dancer said, Georgia was just too good.

“It was a tough match. We needed to get our feet in the ground in certain spots and get off to a good start,” Dancer said in the post-match press conference. “For the large part, we weren’t able to do that and that’s a credit to Georgia.”

Still, Dancer said he was happy for what his team was able to accomplish.

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    “This was a tremendous experience for us and I saw some tremendous growth by the team,” Dancer said. “We learned a lot, and they learned a lot about themselves, and I think in the long run, this will feed the hunger for a run next year.”

    Illinois (23-9) found itself on an uphill climb early after Georgia (32-0) won the doubles point, as it has done every match but one this season. The Illini didn’t give it away, though, as their efforts forced an hour-long doubles session.

    The Illini were in similar predicaments in two previous matches against No. 7 Mississippi and No. 2 Ohio State and were still able to pull off the upset. But Illinois struggled in the singles matches, failing to claim a point before the Bulldogs clinched the win.

    The nation’s top player in the country, John Isner of Georgia, took down junior Kevin Anderson in straight sets (6-1, 7-6). Anderson said Isner was able to keep him out of his groove for the majority of the match.

    “(Isner) aced me a few times in the tiebreaker, and he won a few points in some rallies. I never felt comfortable in the match,” Anderson said in the press conference. “I got down 3-0, and he’s serving, he just played good in the tiebreaker. It’s always tough playing him.”

    Ruben Gonzales put up a fight against tournament MVP Matic Omerzel at No. 4 singles, but eventually fell 7-6, 6-1. Three matches in the finals went unfinished after the Bulldogs took the fourth point.

    Illinois was the highest seed to make the finals since No. 11 USC made the championship and won it in 2002, coincidentally, against Georgia.

    The title marks Georgia’s fourth overall, and its first since 2001. The Bulldogs last appeared in 2006, falling to No. 2-seeded Pepperdine. Georgia, a perennial powerhouse, has made 12 appearances in the championships.

    Illinois was making its second showing in the finals, the last time being in 2003 when it took home top honors.

    Illinois’ Ryan Rowe and Marc Spicijaric earned NCAA All-Tournament honors for their performances in the championships.

    Two Illini compete in singles tournament

    Junior Kevin Anderson defeated No. 54-ranked Dejan Cvetkovic of USC to advance to the round of 32 in the individual portion of the NCAA Tournament.

    Ryan Rowe, the only other Illini in the tournament, was upset by No. 64-ranked Alex Slovic of Washington.

    Anderson won in two sets 6-4, 6-2, while Rowe hammered out three sets of tennis, ultimately falling 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.

    No. 60 Elliott Wronski of UNLV will face the No. 5-ranked Anderson at 11:30 a.m. Thursday morning.

    Rowe will return to compete in the doubles portion of the tournament with Anderson, also on Thursday. They will face No. 23-ranked Dan Buikema and Mathieu Thibaudeau of Alabama at 4 p.m.

    David Just contributed to this report.