Anderson thrills Atkins crowd with JSM Challenger win; Ram makes it a sweep for former Illini

By Alex Iniguez

Kevin Anderson wowed his former home crowd Sunday.

The 22-year-old former Illini won the JSM Challenger in Urbana in dominating fashion with a 6-2, 6-4 win against Kevin Kim in front of a loud Atkins Tennis Center crowd.

“It’s great,” Anderson said. “Playing on a court that feels just like home and spending so many hours here at Atkins has made this week very special for me.”

Up a set and leading 4-3 in the second set, Anderson trailed 40-15 and faced the possibility of allowing Kim back into the match. In the most important game of the match, the South African dug deep to serve four straight aces and a 5-3 lead in the set.

“It was kind of a point where I thought things could easily get bad,” Anderson said. “The previous point I was thinking I could just get up and hit some serves instead of going high percentage. So I just went up there and literally tried to hit them as hard as I could. I managed to get four after hitting my spots well. I think it was a great game leading up to be able to serve for the match, as I kind of carried that momentum into the last game.”

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The match started with each player struggling to hold his own serve. Anderson broke Kim in the first game but the former Illini lost the second game while serving. In the third game, Anderson led 40-0 before Kim stole two quick points. Kim couldn’t pull himself back into the game, however, as the 30-year-old double faulted to give Anderson the break and a 2-1 first-set lead.

Leading 4-1 in the first set, Anderson started to flex his muscles. The former Illini started the game with a second-serve ace and added another two aces in the game to stretch his lead to 5-1.

At the start of the second set, Kim started to change the momentum. After holding his serve in the first game, Kim broke Anderson without giving up a point to go up 2-0 in the set. However, Anderson bounced right back with a break and a hold of serve to knot the score at two apiece. Anderson won the next game to take the lead in the set and never looked back.

“Kevin really focused well in preparing for this tournament,” Illinois head coach Brad Dancer said. “It’s really a testament to his focus but also his tenacity.”

In the final game, Anderson finally allowed his emotions to come out. A fist pump here, a yell there and a point to the fans on the upper concourse after securing the victory showed how badly the South African wanted this win.

“It was a relief,” Anderson said. “But it was also just a recognition of so many people that put so much hard work in order for us Illinois players to experience a lot here and everywhere we go.”

Before Anderson faced off with Kim, another former Illini triumphed on the court. Rajeev Ram won the JSM Challenger crown in doubles play with teammate Bobby Reynolds. The duo topped Olivier Charroin and Nicolas Tourte in a close match, 3-6, 6-3, 10-6. The win was not only sweet for Ram as it came on his former home court, but also because he and Reynolds continue to play well. As the No. 1 seed in the tournament, Ram and Reynolds backed their reputation with consistently strong and exciting play all week long.

“If they could play ATP-level doubles, I think they’d have similar success,” Dancer said. “I think it’s just a matter of time until they break into ATP singles when they’ll have success in doubles as well.”