Tennis starts slow, loses 6-1 to Gators

By Alex Iniguez

Even the best teams are susceptible to the occasional off day.

The ninth-ranked Illinois men’s tennis team revealed its flaws in a 6-1 loss to No. 14 Florida in Gainesville, Fla., on Sunday. The loss drops the Illini’s record to 5-4 on the season and erases any remaining momentum from the team’s 2-1 showing at the National Indoor Championships a week ago.

“We showed weaknesses today,” Coach Brad Dancer said. “Some teams can have weaknesses in some spots and be strong enough in other spots to overcome those weaknesses. We have to improve at No. 3 doubles and five and six singles. We did not perform the way we needed to perform.”

The Illini started off on the wrong foot against the Gators (5-2) after failing to capture the doubles point. The tandems of Marc Spicijaric and Waylon Chin and No. 20 Ryan Rowe and Billy Heiser were defeated before the No. 27 duo of Brandon Davis and Ruben Gonzales notched a win on court two, winning 8-7 (5) against Tyler Hochwalt and Johnny Hamui.

“We lost the doubles point and didn’t respond well enough to win the match,” Dancer said. “We’ve got to be more consistent throughout the entire lineup. I don’t think there is a person on the team who, if we’re going to achieve the things we want to achieve, doesn’t have to perform better.”

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The singles portion of the match began just as poorly for the Illini. Chin and Abe Souza lost at No. 5 and No. 6 singles before Illinois could register its lone point of the day. No. 30 Billy Heiser defeated Florida’s Jeff Dadamo, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-1, on court four. The sophomore, previously ranked No. 70, has risen 40 spots since the Jan. 8 ITA rankings, and proved he deserved to climb in the rankings.

Although Heiser was the only player to score a point for the Illini in the loss, the match could have easily swung the other way. Staring at a 3-1 score after a rough start, Illinois was in a position to turn the match around. Rowe, Gonzales and Spicijaric all led or tied their opponents in the third sets of their respective matches, but could not secure victories.

“We stayed competitive and stayed in there, but that’s not how you win tennis matches,” Dancer said. “You go out from the beginning and play hard – play hard when you’re up, play hard when you’re down, and the score is irrelevant. We’re reacting too much to the score right now.”

The team will have two chances to bounce back from this weekend’s loss. The Illini are set to host No. 67 Michigan State on Friday before battling the talented No. 12 Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Saturday.