Rowe, Heiser shine in USC loss

By Alex Iniguez

Facing a weekend full of difficult situations, Ryan Rowe and Billy Heiser never faltered. The duo went 3-0 at the No. 2 doubles spot during the Illinois men’s tennis team’s annual trip to the USTA Men’s National Indoor Championships in Seattle. Rowe and Heiser provided a bright spot in the team’s loss to No. 6 USC on Friday and led the Illini to two big wins over No. 35 Boise State and host No. 36 Washington on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

“They’re doing a better job at putting their returns in place, and they’re putting pressure on opponents that way,” head coach Brad Dancer said. “They complement each other well in terms of their game styles and their serve management.”

Unfortunately, though, Heiser and Rowe could not guide the Illini to a victory over the Trojans. After helping the team take the doubles point, both Rowe and Heiser lost in their respective singles matches.

Illinois could not secure a point in the singles portion and ultimately fell by a score of 4-1.

“It was just one of those situations,” Dancer said. “Like the Virginia match, the final balls didn’t bounce our way, but we put ourselves in position to potentially clinch that match.”

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Playing the day after losing to USC was no easy task. Just 24 hours after expending plenty of energy attempting to upset the Trojans, the Illini were forced to shift their focus heading into their consolation match against Boise State.

“You’re not sure exactly what you’re playing for at that point because you’re playing for pride more than anything else,” Dancer said.

“I think, for me, the most exciting thing was after seeing us lose the first match, you’re just sitting there going, ‘Aw, man, what do we do?'”

The Illini seemed to know exactly what to do, and they took care of business Saturday, beating Boise State 4-3.

The doubles tandem of seniors Ruben Gonzales and Brandon Davis lost 8-3 to brothers Clancy and Luke Shields at No. 1 doubles, which made the matches on courts two and three all the more important.

The other two doubles teams were up to the task. Rowe and Heiser won their match handily 8-3, and freshman Waylon Chin and junior Marc Spicijaric emerged as victors by an 8-6 score.

The doubles teams could only do so much, though, as the match came down to the singles competition on court five where Chin battled to a tough victory over Steve Robertson 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(2).

Not only did Illinois have the heavy task of competing with another tough team, Washington, on day three of the tournament, it had to do it in a less-than-ideal setting.

Despite playing their first two matches at the Seattle Tennis Center, the Illini were forced to play Sunday’s match at the Nordstrom Tennis Center.

“I told them it would be a big test of their character,” Dancer said.

“The facility they use for the background matches is not a first-class facility. It’s cold, and it’s just not a great place. I wanted to see how we’d respond to that, and obviously we did respond.”

And it was obvious. The Illini were focused throughout a marathon of a tennis match Sunday on their way to a 4-1 victory against Washington.

The Huskies gave their opponents all they could handle during the tournament, as their victory over No. 10 Alabama and near-upset of No. 2 Georgia indicated, before challenging the Illini in a hard-fought match.

Illinois got off to a fast start and never looked back.

The team won at No. 1 and No. 2 doubles and dropped just one singles match before securing the victory, with points coming from Rowe, Heiser and Spicijaric.

The final score was deceiving, however, as the singles portion of the match was not easily won.

Of the four completed matches, only one was decided in two sets – Heiser’s 6-4, 6-1 win over Andy Kuharszky.

“To play Washington at home – just ask Georgia and Alabama – they’re not an easy team to play in that scenario,” Dancer said. “Those were very, very tough circumstances.”

The tough circumstances will continue, as they have all season, with the Illini taking on No. 15 Florida this Sunday in Gainesville, Fla.