Weekend yields a win, a loss for women’s tennis

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By Bret Greenberg

Continued improvement on court three doubles Friday and Sunday helped the Illini stay in the race for the NCAA Championships.

Illinois finished the weekend with a 4-3 victory against Penn State on Sunday and a 5-2 loss against No. 22 Michigan on Friday.

“This weekend definitely didn’t hurt us,” head coach Michelle Dasso said. “We did what we were supposed to do and fought hard. We have four Big Ten matches left, and next weekend we have to step it up.”

Dasso said Illinois’ No. 62 ranking should not be positively or negatively affected by this past weekend’s performance, but the team needs to perform well in its next four matches to bring it up to No. 42 to receive a bid to the NCAAs.

On Sunday, the Illini started off strong in doubles, winning on two of the three courts. Dasso believes court three doubles has finally become the strong, cohesive tandem that will hopefully take the pressure off courts one and two as the season winds down. She added that the team’s doubles play looked promising this weekend, as Illinois won three of its six doubles matches.

“We are moving much better on all three courts,” Dasso said. “We are closing on the ball faster and we are returning serves much better.”

Illinois came out sluggish against Penn State in singles, as sophomore Megan Fudge and redshirt freshman Leigh Finnegan started off their first sets down 4-1 and 5-2, respectively. However, both of them fired back, winning their matches in two sets each. Freshman Marisa Lambropoulos’ strong singles play sealed the victory for the Illini.

Penn State (7-9) only had four indoor courts, so players waited their turns and watched courts one through four compete first. Dasso said it changed the whole dynamic of the match because by the time courts five and six played, the match had already been decided. It was also a change of pace for the team because the match lasted five and a half hours, the longest of its season so far.

On Friday, the Illini (8-8) stayed with the Wolverines (11-4), winning one doubles match and two singles matches. Junior Shivani Dave defeated No. 105 Tania Mahtani 6-4, 6-3, earning her first victory over a ranked opponent this season. Sophomore Kristina Minor came away with a win against Michigan’s Lindsey Howard 4-6, 6-1, 6-1.

Illinois will have the day off on Monday to rest up and heal. Fudge, who has been playing through a sore back, and Minor, who has been playing with a sore ankle, expect to heal over the next week. Dasso said the team is worn out from the busy weekend, which involved heavy traveling between matches.

The Illini will stay on the road next weekend as they travel to Bloomington, Ind., on Saturday to take on No. 28 Indiana (16-4). They will then travel to Columbus, Ohio, on Sunday for a match against No. 29 Ohio State (16-4).