Indoor championship looms for men’s tennis



By Alex Iniguez

Without a doubt, this season’s schedule has been difficult for the Illinois men’s tennis team. The Illini have played No. 1 Virginia and No. 18 LSU at home and No. 12 Duke and No. 14 Tennessee on the road. The Orange and Blue will face their most difficult challenge at this weekend’s ITA National Men’s Indoor Championship, which begins Friday against No. 6 USC.

Head coach Brad Dancer described his team’s performance last week as “soft,” but a major factor in the way the team played in a 6-1 victory against LSU on Saturday could be the fact that many Illini players have been sick.

Dancer and his players are trying to focus on the biggest matches of the season so far, while trying to heal quickly. The Illini (3-2) have little time to get better before Friday’s first-round match against the Trojans in Seattle.

“It’s one of our main season goals every year to be successful at Indoors and try to win the championship,” Dancer said. “We’re trying to get healthy. A lot of guys were sick, and we’re taking it on a case-by-case basis on what we can do to get each guy ready.”

Illinois is making its 12th appearance in the tournament, while USC is making its 26th. Though both the Illini and Trojans have won back-to-back indoor titles, Illinois has had the most recent success with victories in 2003 and 2004. USC’s titles came in 1987 and 1988.

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    “We’ve had a lot of success there as a team,” senior Ryan Rowe said. “It’s a good opportunity for us to see where we stand up against some of the rest of the teams in the country, get some good matches in, and prepare for the rest of the season.”

    USC poses a formidable threat to the Illini, as the Trojans have raced to a 7-0 start on the season. No. 2 Robert Farah and Kaes Van’t Hof have successfully led the squad to victories over No. 27 California, No. 32 Clemson and No. 35 Boise State. Illinois has a 3-2 all-time record against USC in dual matches and has won the previous two matches against the Trojans. To say that a victory over the Trojans would result in a big confidence boost is an understatement.

    “We know it’s going to be an absolute battle in each match,” junior Marc Spicijaric said. “So far this year we’ve had a lot of tough matches early on, so I think that should help us out. We traveled to Duke and Tennessee and those were two tough matches. Playing away from home helped us, but we’ll still have our fan base out there, so that will help.”

    Ruben Gonzales continues to lead by example for the Illini this season. Gonzales is 3-1 at No. 1 singles and 4-1 overall, and has teamed with senior Brandon Davis to earn a 5-1 record at doubles, including an upset of No. 1 Somdev Devvarman and Treat Huey of Virginia. Rowe is ranked 15th in the country in singles play and has teamed with No. 70 Billy Heiser to go 3-1 in doubles matches.

    “I’m excited to play tough matches every day,” Rowe said. “We’re playing top-level teams, so the top three or four spots are going to be tough. We’re itching to get out there and show everybody what we’re made of.”