Rowe defeats two pros at Challenger tourney

By Jim Shay

Schools across the country know all about Ryan Rowe’s ability on the tennis court. Now it’s time for the world to start taking notes.

The Illini senior continued his assault on the 2007 JSM Challenger’s main singles draw Wednesday night, earning a decisive victory against Illinois alumnus Brian Wilson, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3.

The victory marked the second night in a row that Rowe has defeated a ranked professional opponent in straight sets, the first coming on Tuesday night against 127th ranked Zack Fleishman, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4).

Rowe also became just the second Illinois student-athlete ever to win a match at the Challenger after former teammate Kevin Anderson, who had similar success in reaching the quarterfinals at last year’s Challenger.

After winning a back-and-forth battle in the first set, Rowe’s consistent play earned him a 3-1 advantage early in the second frame. With Wilson’s frustration intensifying with each passing point, Rowe moved to pounce on the opportunity to seal the victory and succeeded.

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“I think yesterday was a little tougher because it was my first match out and there were a little more nerves,” Rowe said. “I got through my first match and settled down more this match. I don’t think I served quite as well in this match. Brian made me play big points, which was tough, and I was able to pull it off.”

The enthusiastic Illini fans that have convened to watch Rowe compete this week continued to fill the Atkins Tennis Center with the energy of a college tennis match.

Among those in attendance was Rowe’s head coach, Brad Dancer, who was impressed with the persistent play of his senior.

“They always say tennis is 90 percent mental,” Dancer said. “And I think Ryan did a great job of keeping himself in it, fighting off the frustrations and so forth.

“When guys don’t play their best you have to take advantage of that and take them out.”

Four Illinois alumni were also in action on Tuesday, and most found success similar to Rowe’s.

Anderson and fellow alumni Rajeev Ram butted heads in an emotional first round singles match, as Ram took advantage of a subpar showing by Anderson and captured a victory in straight sets, 7-6 (4), 6-3).

“He served very well and I didn’t serve well at all,” Anderson said. “He didn’t give me a chance on his serve and he was in a lot of games when I was serving.

“I’m pretty disappointed about losing that one.”

Amer Delic, a three-time All-American at Illinois and the tournament’s top seed, needed three sets to win a match against his pesky opponent, Luka Gregorc of Slovakia. Ryler DeHeart also earned a first-round victory in the main doubles draw.

As for Rowe, he will look to continue his surprising tournament run when quarterfinal action begins Thursday.

The Illini senior is not entirely hesitant to enjoy the moment, but knows he must be prepare for the formidable challenge that awaits him in the next round.

“I’m just really happy with how things are going,” Rowe said, “but I just have to focus on the next match. That’s what I have to worry about.”