Tennis gears up for No. 17 Tigers

By Alex Iniguez

After last Sunday’s 4-3 loss to then-No. 24 Tennessee, Illinois men’s tennis head coach Brad Dancer had plenty of time to evaluate the match with his players before preparing for No. 17 LSU.

“The biggest thing was just having individual meetings and making sure the players know what they need to improve on,” Dancer said. “That’s the one nice thing about being on a bus ride like that is that it gives you the time to sit down and walk through everybody’s game.

“We’ve had our best week of preparation this season so far. The guys feel really strong. They’re tired right now because they’ve worked so hard, but we’ll be ready to go on Saturday.”

An untested LSU team is fresh off a season-opening 7-0 victory over UL-Lafayette on Wednesday. Illinois sits at 2-2 on the year, with victories over Ball State and No. 13 Duke. Sunday’s loss to Tennessee, ranked No. 16 now, was filled with disappointment after the Illini dropped the doubles point and the first three singles matches, but sophomore Billy Heiser and freshman Waylon Chin managed to secure confidence-building victories. Chin won his second straight singles match, topping Tennessee’s Matteo Fago 1-6, 7-5, 1-0 (8).

Heiser is looking to keep the ball rolling after taking down No. 28 Boris Conkic of Tennessee 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3.

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    “It was nice to win,” Heiser said. “I just have to keep working hard. I lost two close matches (against Virginia and at Duke) so I just have to keep fighting hard. I was up in both matches, I just have to close it out and win.”

    The Tigers enter the match as the Illini’s fourth straight top-25 opponent.

    “Playing these teams is good because we know we can beat any team in the country, but we also know that we can also lose to anyone,” Heiser said. “It gives us confidence, but we have to keep working.”

    Dancer would agree with that statement; he knows as well as anyone the importance of playing stiff competition instead of the monotony of playing weaker teams.

    “That’s just what we do,” Dancer said. “We just play top teams because every match is big. It’s fun to get up for every match. Nobody likes to play matches that aren’t exciting.

    “We just have to play with spirit and just come after them – play aggressive tennis and take it to them.”