Men’s tennis ends regular season

By Alex Iniguez

Every team strives to play its best when it counts the most – in the postseason.

The No. 17 Illini (16-7, 8-2 Big Ten) are looking to repeat their 2007 tournament success, after the team finished out the regular season with two momentum-building road wins against Minnesota (6-16, 4-6) and No. 53 Iowa (12-9, 4-6). Illinois followed up a 5-2 victory over the Golden Gophers on Friday with a 7-0 win on Sunday against the Hawkeyes.

“It was a good weekend to get two road wins, and I was very pleased about that,” head coach Brad Dancer said. “Our seniors did an especially good job at leading the team.”

The Illini were led by strong play from seniors throughout the weekend, as No. 53 Ruben Gonzales, No. 13 Ryan Rowe and Brandon Davis each went undefeated in both singles and doubles play.

Gonzales began the weekend by teaming with Marc Spicijaric for a doubles victory and then went on to win 6-2, 6-3 against No. 92 Raoul Schwark of Minnesota. His stellar play continued into Sunday, when the Terre Haute, Ind., native notched another doubles triumph and added a straight-set victory against Iowa’s Bart van Monsiou.

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    “Ruben is always very focused and very driven,” Dancer said. “He’s getting better all the time. He’s got to stay light and loose and trust his shots. As long as he can do that, he’ll be able to take care of business.”

    Rowe was just as effective on the weekend, securing two straight-set wins in singles play. In doubles play, the team of Rowe and sophomore Billy Heiser, ranked No. 8 in the nation, continued its dominance with two more wins, including an 8-6 defeat of Iowa’s van Monsiou and J.P. Ritchie.

    “Rowe and Heiser struggled a little bit this weekend, but they did some things better,” Dancer said. “It was exciting to see them start to return better. They’ve been a little bit sloppy down the stretch, but I think they really turned it around.”

    Davis’ contributions came solely in doubles play, but the senior combined with freshman Waylon Chin to solidify the No. 3 doubles spot that has been troubling the Illini all season long.

    The duo improved its record to 6-1 since teaming up for the first time against Kentucky on April 2.

    “We had those issues at No. 3 doubles, but Waylon and Brandon are just a point or two away from being undefeated together,” Dancer said. “So maybe we’re starting to have some confidence with what they can do down there at No. 3 doubles.”

    The two victories to round out the season came after the April 12 loss to No. 2 Ohio State and a 5-2 win against Indiana the following day.

    The Illini will need to continue their strong play in doubles and rely on their seniors to carry momentum into postseason play.

    The postseason begins Thursday at the Big Ten Championships in Iowa City, Iowa, where Illinois, seeded No. 3 in the conference, will face either sixth-seeded Indiana or 11th-seeded Northwestern on Friday. Last season, the Illini lost in the Big Ten title match 4-1 to then-No. 3 Ohio State before their triumphant run to the NCAA Tournament Championship match.

    “One of our goals that we always talk about is winning the Big Ten tournament title,” Dancer said. “We’re going to try to win the tournament, but based on what was not the greatest regular season, we know we put ourselves in a tough-seeded position. We’re going to have to win three tough matches, so we’re just focusing on one match at a time.”

    Waylon Chin and Brandon Davis’ doubles matches


    4/18/2008 Pierre Dumas/Raoul Schwark Minnesota Win 8-1

    4/13/2008 Peter Antons/Santiago Gruter Indiana Win 9-8(7-3)

    4/12/2008 Balazs Novak/Shuhei Uzawa Ohio State Win 8-6

    4/6/2008 Andrew Mazlin/Chris Madden Michigan Loss 8-7(7-3)

    4/5/2008 James Dwyer/Edward Bourchier Penn State Win 8-6

    4/2/2008 Alex Lambropoulos/Marcus Sundh Kentucky 4-5, unfinished