Illini sweep match as Roth steps up



By Alex Iniguez

Time and time again, the Illinois men’s tennis team has relied on its freshmen for success on the lower courts. Saturday’s match against Purdue was no exception. Behind a solid performance from Connor Roth at No. 6 singles, the Illini topped the Boilermakers 7-0. The freshman defeated Purdue’s Paul Foley 6-1, 6-2, to secure the win for No. 7 Illinois.

“I thought I played really well,” Roth said. “I conserved my energy and stuck to the game plan. In doubles, I think we executed at the net. Our returns were a little shaky, but we were able to stick with it.”

While the score does not show it, the match began as a struggle. Before the Illini (8-4, 2-0 Big Ten) got it together to sweep the doubles portion of the match, Purdue (7-5, 1-1) battled hard, keeping it close before losing on all three courts.

No. 21 Brandon Davis and Ruben Gonzales were the first tandem to take a match for the Illini, downing Eric Ramos and Patrick Rose 8-5. Shortly after, No. 20 Ryan Rowe and Billy Heiser secured the doubles point for Illinois with an 8-6 victory. Roth and junior Marc Spicijaric rounded out the doubles portion with an 8-6 victory on court three.

“(Roth and Spicijaric) were not bad,” head coach Brad Dancer said. “They got really unlucky with left court serves and second-serve aces, so I thought (court) three did a nice job. (Davis and Gonzales) did a nice job as well.”

After the difficult doubles session, Illinois was on fire in singles. All six Illini players won their first set, and only one player needed more than two sets to earn a victory. No. 14 Rowe was the first player to win in singles for Illinois, defeating Branko Kuzmanovic 6-1, 6-3. The senior solidified his play after the shaky doubles session and won his team-high 18th singles victory of the year.

“I don’t think I came out mentally ready today, but I got focused and helped pull it out at the end,” Rowe said. “In singles, I came out with a lot more focus. Sometimes it’s a little better motivation if you’re not playing the best in doubles so you know you have to work hard in singles and that sets you up mentally. Obviously it’s not the easiest thing to turn your game around, but you have to work hard and stay focused.”

As the 7-0 shutout indicates, Rowe was not the only Illini player to perform well. Spicijaric and No. 84 Heiser secured 6-3, 6-3 victories on the evening and Heiser in particular played an outstanding match.

“That’s good tennis,” Dancer said. “That kid was good tonight. That was great, Heiser was awesome tonight. And Connor went out and did a great job – not that I wasn’t expecting it.”

At 8-4 on the season, Illinois is gaining confidence. The Illini have won three straight matches and five of their last six, including last week’s 6-1 shellacking of No. 15 Notre Dame.

The team will try to keep the momentum going into Wednesday, when No. 29 TCU rolls into town. The Horned Frogs are 10-2 on the season after losing 4-3 to No. 19 Texas A&M; on Saturday.