Men’s tennis defeats Kentucky, sets focus on Michigan match

By Alex Iniguez

The Illinois men’s tennis team has struggled at No. 3 doubles all season, compelling head coach Brad Dancer to fiddle with the lineup. The No. 17 Illini (11-6), however, did not need a win at the troublesome spot to secure both the doubles point and the match in a 4-2 victory over No. 37 Kentucky (10-11) on Wednesday.

Waylon Chin and Brandon Davis, another new pairing at No. 3 doubles, had no need to complete their match thanks to strong play at the No. 1 and No. 2 spots. Ruben Gonzales and Marc Spicijaric defeated Kentucky’s Will Beck and Shane Collins, 8-3, to start the afternoon. Soon after, No. 29 Billy Heiser and Ryan Rowe continued an impressive streak by notching their seventh straight doubles victory – 8-6 against Bruno Agostinelli and Brad Cox.

“It was a first-time experiment with (Chin and Davis),” Dancer said. “There was a lot left to be played out there to figure out how well it turned out. Billy and Ryan did a good job (Wednesday). They returned well and put a lot of pressure on the other team. Marc and Ruben had a good gelling today, so that was good to see.”

In singles play, the Wildcats were looking for an upset early, but ultimately the Illini attack proved to be too much. Freshmen Abe Souza and Chin lost at No. 5 and No. 6 singles, respectively, before No. 90 Gonzales topped No. 19 Agostinelli. Heiser, ranked No. 93 in the nation, came back from a set down to defeat Marcus Sundh, and No. 12 Rowe overpowered Cox to round out the Illini scoring. Rowe has won three straight matches and seven of his last eight, while Heiser made his way back onto the winning track in improving his record to 12-5.

“It was kind of an odd day because I feel like I haven’t been mentoring Ruben enough lately, so I didn’t leave his court today,” Dancer said. “(Souza and Chin) went down, but I had a lot of confidence that Heiser could come back. Sometimes he needs a little time to warm up, and he seemed to take control of that match in the second set.”

Kentucky was Illinois’ last non-conference opponent before the NCAA Tournament, and the team now has a four-match homestand, including a battle with No. 2 Ohio State, before finishing up the season on the road. The Illini are 3-1 in the Big Ten and are gunning for the Big Ten Championship title. But before the team thinks about the postseason, it must focus on its next opponent: Michigan.

“I know it’s coach-speak, but the reality is that we have to take it one match at a time,” Dancer said. “(Michigan) is going to be a great challenge for us Saturday. They have significantly improved.”