Tennis riding high off wins

By Alex Iniguez

Sitting at 7-4, the Illinois men’s tennis team’s outlook on the year could be worse. Instead, the Illini are riding high after topping No. 66 Michigan State on Friday before dismantling No. 15 Notre Dame, 6-1, on Saturday.

So how does the team keep the momentum going after its most successful weekend of the season?

“We’ve got to play aggressive tennis,” head coach Brad Dancer said of this weekend’s match against Purdue. “But we can’t make stupid mistakes. I want to somehow find a way for us to increase our offensive play without increasing errors. We’re going to try to be more aggressive, add more transition play, hit the ball bigger and push our opponents around.”

Dancer was in good spirits Saturday, admittedly the happiest he has been all season, and with good reason. The Illini were rolling from the start in their match against the Fighting Irish, capturing an easy win in doubles thanks to a decisive 8-2 win by No. 20 Ryan Rowe and Billy Heiser.

But Illinois struggled at No. 3 doubles, as they have all season. Freshmen Abe Souza and Connor Roth were defeated 8-5 by Tyler Davis and Steven Havens of Notre Dame. The duo has very little experience playing together, and Dancer knows the inconsistency at No. 3 doubles is something that needs to be fixed, no matter how many rotations he has to try.

“I think we have to find some guys, trust them and let them play – go after it and see if there are some guys that can prove themselves out there,” Dancer said. “There’s pressure now on our third doubles, period. Anyone who walks out there is going to feel like ‘oh man, we gotta perform tonight.’ The expectations are high for this program, and we don’t expect to have a losing record at a doubles position. We’re better than that. I hate to say it, but I think you’ll continue to see us rotate guys in and hope that somebody clicks.”

The struggles at No. 3 doubles seemed to be the Illini’s only weakness of the match. Illinois players won the top three spots in straight sets to secure the victory in rapid fashion. No. 84 Heiser was the first to earn a singles victory, followed by No. 92 Ruben Gonzales and No. 14 Rowe, who topped No. 17 Brett Helgeson, 6-3, 6-4.

The Boilermakers (7-4, 1-0 Big Ten) have won four of five matches, including a 6-1 victory over Michigan State on Sunday, who the Illini beat 6-1 last Friday.

The team is led by Slavko Bijelica and Branko Kuzmanovic, sophomores who are 8-6 and 4-9, respectively, on the season for the Boilermakers.

“We’re just focused on ourselves – just go out, take care of business and win,” junior Marc Spicijaric said.