No. 15 Illini men’s tennis travels to No. 5 Virginia

Jeremy Berg The Daily Illini Illinois Billy Heiser returns the ball at the match against Indiana on Sunday April 13.

Jeremy Berg The Daily Illini Illinois’ Billy Heiser returns the ball at the match against Indiana on Sunday April 13.

By Alex Iniguez

After last week’s 6-1 dismantling of No. 14 Pepperdine, the No. 15 Illinois men’s tennis team is hungry for another taste of early-season victory Friday when it takes on No. 5 Virginia. The Illini will face a tough task as they attempt to avenge last season’s 4-3 loss at the hands of the then-No. 1 Cavaliers.

Virginia (1-0) has only played one dual match this season, a 7-0 win against William & Mary, so the Cavaliers are relatively untested so far. With the match taking place in Charlottesville, Va., on the same night the school will honor former great and current pro Somdev Devvarman, however, the Cavaliers will be pumped up and ready to play. The question is whether Illinois (3-0) can handle the heat at the Boar’s Head Sports Club.

“We have a lot of confidence right now,” senior Marc Spicijaric said. “We know Virginia is a really good team. Obviously, they can’t really replace a player like Somdev. What he did for the program is amazing. We’re really looking forward to challenging ourselves on the road against a very strong team.”

Last weekend, the Illini defeated Toledo and Ball State before easily picking apart No. 14 Pepperdine, 6-1. Against Virginia, Illinois will surely see a different lineup in singles, as junior Billy Heiser, one of the team’s top players, did not compete in the singles portion against Pepperdine.

The friendly competition for playing time, along with the desire to knock off a top-ranked team, has kept the Illini honed in on preparing for one of their toughest matches of the season.

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“The team is very focused and may be the most focused team, from top to bottom, I’ve seen in my five years here,” Illinois head coach Brad Dancer said. “We’ll see if we can translate that onto the courts on Friday night.”

The doubles point will likely prove to be crucial once again Friday. Virginia boasts two ranked doubles teams, including the No. 3-ranked duo Sanam Singh and Houston Barrick.

“They’re a little bit like us this year,” Dancer said. “They’ve got some veterans in there that are hoping to do some things, and they have some new guys too. They have all those guys’ ranks, and they look very strong on paper, but I’m sure there’s a little bit of anxiety in them about how those guys are going to perform in dual match situations.”

Dancer’s formula for success against the Cavaliers is easily defined but difficult to execute.

“We’re going to have steal wins in doubles and at the top spots,” Dancer said. “We need to beat people with our depth. I’ll take wins wherever we can get them, as long as we can get enough of them.”