Men regroup, hit road for pair of bouts



By Alex Iniguez

At 2-0 in the Big Ten, the Illinois men’s tennis team is already focused on winning the conference championship. Luckily, the No. 16 Illini have two chances to continue their unbeaten conference record this weekend when they travel to Northwestern and No. 45 Wisconsin.

Coming off a 4-3 loss at No. 13 Pepperdine, the Illini (9-5) are eager to get back on the winning track.

Up first this weekend for Illinois is Saturday’s match at Northwestern. The Wildcats (7-9, 0-3 Big Ten) most recently defeated Lamar 6-1. Northwestern also lost 7-0 to No. 27 Notre Dame and defeated Ball State 6-1, two opponents Illinois defeated handily.

Wisconsin is the second conference foe the Illini battle this weekend. The Badgers (10-7, 2-1) are led by No. 44 Moritz Baumann. The sophomore is 6-6 in singles play, including a win against No. 33 Bojan Szumanski of Texas Tech. The Illini will be playing outdoors this weekend after spending most of the season indoors. Billy Heiser, in particular, is looking forward to competing outside.

“I hate indoor tennis,” sophomore Heiser said. “I’m much better outdoors. The courts are slower, there’s higher bouncing and a little bit of wind. I don’t mind the wind. It kind of frustrates other guys and I like it, so that’s a big advantage for me. They’re usually longer matches, too, so my fitness comes into play.”

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    Illinois could not get the job done in doubles play against Pepperdine, starting the match off on the wrong foot and never recovering from the early deficit. No. 9 Ryan Rowe and No. 80 Ruben Gonzales lost at the top of the lineup and Waylon Chin was defeated by Mahmoud Kamel 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 to seal the win for the Waves.

    “I don’t like to lose and the team doesn’t like to lose,” head coach Brad Dancer said. “We had a great trip other than losing and we want to win. We’re very focused this week on getting back to winning.”

    One of the bright spots for the Illini in the match against Pepperdine was the play of Heiser, ranked No. 76 in singles. He defeated No. 123 Omar Altmann 6-4, 0-6, 7-5, and teamed with Rowe for an 8-5 doubles victory.

    Despite the loss, the Illini are improving. The team has won six of its last eight matches, including a 6-1 romp over Notre Dame. Heiser has won seven of his last eight matches, while Rowe and Gonzales have each won four of their last five.

    “That’s what our program is designed for – individual accountability and individual improvement,” Dancer said.

    “If we can do that, then we’ll actually make improvements at this time of the year while other teams are worried about becoming stagnant. Last year, we hit our stride, and I think this year we’re looking to hit our stride too.”