No. 7 Illini men’s tennis hosts No. 44 Northwestern, No. 19 Wisconsin

By Alex Iniguez

A week after winning four matches, the No. 7 Illini men’s tennis team will try to add another pair to the win column.

On the heels of its win against Purdue to open Big Ten play, Illinois (11-3, 1-0 Big Ten) is set to host No. 44 Northwestern on Friday and No. 19 Wisconsin on Saturday.

The Illini moved up four spots in the rankings since their four wins last weekend, and the Orange and Blue are poised to continue their six-match win streak. It won’t be easy, as Northwestern (11-2) and Wisconsin (9-2) are both currently playing at a high level. Despite the four victories, Illinois limped through last weekend.

“We gotta get ready,” Illinois head coach Brad Dancer said. “We have to play better than we played last weekend and pick up some steam. Hopefully last weekend was an anomaly for this team and what we’re planning on doing this season. We need all of our guys to be prepared to step up this weekend.”

The Wildcats posted an eight-match winning streak to open the season before narrowly losing to No. 25 Notre Dame, 4-3. Senior Marc Dwyer leads the charge for Northwestern with a 9-3 record and the No. 82 ranking. Illinois swept Northwestern, 7-0, last season.

    Subscribe to our sports newsletter!

    “The Big Ten is certainly the deepest it’s ever been,” Dancer said. “You’re going to see Northwestern, who is certainly going to be an NCAA Tournament team this year. They’ve got some matches that they’ll have to prove that, but they’re going to win some matches in the Big Ten. They are going to be much better outdoors, so we have to take advantage of playing them indoors.”

    Wisconsin is riding high after taking down Notre Dame and North Carolina State last weekend. The Badgers, ranked in the top 20 for the first time in more than 30 years, ended their 18-match losing streak to the Irish. Last season, the then-No. 16 Illini lost 5-2 to Wisconsin in Madison, Wis., in the regular season before avenging the loss with a 4-1 win in the Big Ten Tournament.

    “I’ve heard a couple stories about how we lost last year,” freshman Ruan Roelofse said. “No one’s really been talking about it, but come Saturday we’ll be focused on them. This weekend will be very important if we want to do well in the Big Ten season and eventually the (Big Ten) Tournament.”

    The Illini’s 4-3 win against Purdue marked the 12th straight time Illinois has won its Big Ten opener. In the match, the Boilermakers caught the Illini off guard and narrowly took the doubles point to get out to an early lead. Illinois came back after the break to win four of the six singles matches to complete the comeback. The Illini hope to avoid any lapses in their play this weekend.

    “We’ve been working on increasing our intensity this week,” junior Marek Czerwinski said. “I think we’ve done a good job as a team in making our practices a lot like the matches. We’ve been getting more vocal and loud, and I think it should help us out.”