Men’s tennis prepares for week of aces: Devils, Vols

By Alex Iniguez

After taking on the No. 1 team in the country, the Illinois men’s tennis team deserves a cupcake to get its mojo back. Instead, the team will face not one, but two top-25 teams – on the road, no less.

The No. 8 Illini continue their difficult schedule this weekend, traveling to Durham, N.C., on Friday to battle No. 15 Duke, and then to Knoxville, Tenn., to square off against No. 24 Tennessee on Sunday. The match against Duke comes a week after a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to No. 1 Virginia, which dropped the Illini’s record to 1-1.

“We’re still a little upset about last week,” Ryan Rowe said. “We had some good opportunities there. I think we showed we’re one of the top teams in the country. It’s early in the season and we’re going to keep getting better. We just want to work really hard and be able to come out the rest of the season and play hard.”

Playing hard is only half the battle. Head coach Brad Dancer puts just as much stock in preparation.

“The bottom line is that this is college tennis,” head coach Brad Dancer said. “We lost, but we’ve got another one Friday and another one Sunday. We have plenty of chances coming up. I’m hoping some experience can come through on the road, but to be honest that stuff doesn’t really matter much. What matters is who’s better prepared.”

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    First up on the weekend is No. 15 Duke. The Blue Devils won their season opener 6-1 over No. 53 Elon, and followed it up with a win over No. 73 Princeton on Tuesday.

    Three freshmen compete for Duke – Christopher Price, Reid Carlton and Jared Pinksky – and the trio has started the year off well for the Blue Devils, which should provide for an exciting match Friday.

    “It was a good match last year,” Rowe said.

    “They’re a young team and we’re expecting a hostile crowd. I think it’s fun. You just go out there and there’s obviously a lot of heckling. You just can’t take it too seriously, and you just use it to your benefit.”

    The hostile crowd is something Dancer is looking forward to.

    “They had the cheerleaders and the Blue Devil out,” Dancer said. “Things like that provide a better experience for us, and it elevates our level of play.”

    Tennessee should provide another difficult matchup for the Illini.

    Both teams will be playing on one day’s rest, as the Volunteers will host No. 30 Clemson on Friday. So far this season, Tennessee is 4-0.

    The team is led by No. 28 Boris Conkic at No. 1 Singles. The freshman is 13-2 overall on the young season.