Former Illinois tennis stars cherish time spent at UI

By Alex Iniguez

Talk about a whirlwind 2008 for former Illini tennis stars – and it’s not even over yet.

In March, Kevin Anderson defeated the No. 3 player in the world, Novak Djokovic. On Aug. 11, he defeated Komlavi Loglo of Togo to advance to the second round of singles play in Beijing at the Olympic Games.

Ryler DeHeart has only played in one Grand Slam tournament – the 2008 US Open. However, he defeated four players en route to a second-round meeting with the best player in the world, Rafael Nadal.

Just three short years ago, DeHeart and Anderson helped the Illini reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament while filling the No. 1 and No. 2 singles positions on the roster. It was DeHeart’s senior season and Anderson’s sophomore season, a time cherished by DeHeart and many other people in the Illinois tennis program.

Luckily, DeHeart stays connected with his former teammates and his alma mater. Living in Champaign when not on tour, the 24-year old trains at Atkins Tennis Center and visits with former and current Illini tennis players regularly.

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    “I’m pretty close with a lot of the guys,” DeHeart said. “Kevin (Anderson), GD (Jones) and Rajeev (Ram) are probably the ones I’m closest with. Whenever I’m back in town I always hang out with the guys, like Brandon – the guys I was on the team with. I get along with the new guys too. It’s just a great group of people here.”

    DeHeart is not the only former Illini star to frequent Atkins. Anderson and Ram, among others, can often be found working out at the Urbana facility.

    “These guys are always back and getting in and working with our guys,” men’s tennis head coach Brad Dancer said. “I think in that sense, it’s just a great continuation of the Illinois family and what it’s all about.”

    Amer Delic joined DeHeart and Ram at the US Open to form a strong Illinois presence in New York. Delic lost in the first round to Robby Ginepri in singles play and advanced to the second round in doubles play. While at Illinois, Delic guided the Orange and Blue to a 32-0 record and the NCAA Tournament Championship in 2003, before winning the NCAA Singles Tournament. Going pro after his junior year, Delic had already reached No. 12 on the career singles wins list with a 92-33 record.

    “I only spent three years (at Illinois),” Delic said. “And it went so fast because it was so much fun. But it definitely built a lot of steps towards where I’m going now. Throughout those three years I’ve grown as a tennis player, but I’ve also established friendships and met a lot of people that I’m going to be friends with for the rest of my life.”

    With the professional success and busy schedules of these former Illini, the contact with the University could easily have been reduced. But in the eyes of Ram, that won’t be happening anytime soon.

    “The coaching staff really gets everybody to improve even when they’ve left,” Ram said. “I think I have something to offer to the guys on the team, and they have something to offer to me. Any time any of the guys that played here are around, they come back and hit with the current players. It’s just a close family here and that’s one of the biggest reasons the program has been so successful.”