Men’s tennis hopes to extend winning streak

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By Alex Iniguez

After shaking off some rust early in the spring season, the Illinois men’s tennis team has finally hit its stride.

The Illini have won three straight matches and five of their last six, including last week’s 7-0 disassembling of conference foe No. 54 Purdue and 6-1 assault of No. 30 Notre Dame.

Sophomore Billy Heiser has led the way in winning six straight singles matches. No. 14 Ryan Rowe, No. 92 Ruben Gonzales and Waylon Chin have each won three straight, while the No. 21 doubles team of Gonzales and Brandon Davis has also won three in a row.

Somehow, the team has to find a way to keep these streaks alive on Wednesday night when the No. 16 Illini (8-4) host No. 27 TCU (10-3).

The play of Connor Roth was especially encouraging in the match against Purdue. The freshman is performing well after winning his singles match 6-1, 6-2 against Purdue’s Paul Foley. Roth also recorded an 8-6 win by teaming with junior Marc Spicijaric in doubles play.

“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.”

Head coach Brad Dancer applauded Roth’s performance and knows the freshman can continue to play at a high level.

“Connor went out and did a great job today,” Dancer said. “Not that I wasn’t expecting it.”

Rowe’s last two matches were decisive straight-set victories against No. 17 Brett Helgeson of Notre Dame and Purdue’s Branko Kuzmanovic. After struggling in doubles play, the senior made a nice comeback in singles, defeating Kuzmanovic 6-1, 6-3.

“When I had the opportunities, I took advantage of them,” Rowe said. “In the first set, I came out and won pretty handily, and in the second set, I played a little better tennis and made a couple better shots. I was able to break and serve effectively, so that worked out in my favor.”

Following a 4-3 setback against No. 20 Texas A&M; last Saturday, TCU fell to No. 64 Wisconsin on Monday, 5-2. The Horned Frogs are led by No. 21 Cosmin Cotet, who boasts a 9-2 record on the year. The senior has played well all season, and upset No. 13 Oleksandr Nedovyesov of Oklahoma State. Cotet and teammate Kriegler Brink have posted an 8-2 record in doubles play to guide TCU. Brink is also undefeated in singles play at 11-0.

Illinois leads the all-time series 3-2, and the teams have not met since 1998 when the Illini took a 4-1 victory against the Horned Frogs. To extend the win streak against TCU, the Illini will need to stay focused and play aggressively.

“Obviously we need to come out stronger in doubles and play more intense,” Rowe said. “TCU is a good team, and they have some really good players out there, so we have to be ready to come out and bring it to them.”