Illinois women’s tennis tops No. 24 Indiana to begin Big Ten play

Illinois+Alexis+Casati+reaches+for+a+return+during+the+tennis+match+v.+Marquette+at+Atkins+Tennis+Center+on+Sunday%2C+Feb.+15.+Illinois+won+5-2.

Illinois’ Alexis Casati reaches for a return during the tennis match v. Marquette at Atkins Tennis Center on Sunday, Feb. 15. Illinois won 5-2.

By Jonathan Joffe

After narrowly earning the doubles point in Sunday’s match against Indiana, the Illinois women’s tennis team never looked back. The Illini won three more points in singles before the No. 24-ranked Hoosiers could pick up a second point, sealing an eventual 6-1 victory.

In the doubles portion of the match, the Illini struck first — sophomores Alexis Casati and Madie Baillon picked up an 8-4 win at the No. 2 doubles spot. However, while Illinois was dominating that matchup, Indiana held slight leads in the other two doubles matchups. Indiana’s Shannon Murdy and Stephanie Smith knocked off Illinois sophomore Jerricka Boone and senior Julia Jamieson at the No. 3 doubles spot, winning 8-4, but the Illini were not ready to fold.

The No. 1 doubles team for Illinois, senior Melissa Kopinski and sophomore Louise Kwong, rallied off two-straight games to tie it up at 7-7 and force a tie-breaker against Indiana’s After trailing 1-3 early in the tiebreaker, Illinois took over and scored six-straight points to pull out a victory and secure the doubles point.

Kopinski credited her team for helping her stay focused when facing a deficit.

Casati and Baillon were on the sideline watching Kopinski and Kwong’s comeback.

“It’s nerve-wracking just watching that,” said Casati. “It obviously felt good to be the first ones done in doubles, just to secure that win, but it was so nerve-wracking.”

Illinois cruised in singles out of the gate, with all Illini except freshman Jade Hilton winning their first set. While the second sets between the Illini and the Hoosiers were much closer — Indiana won three of the six second sets — Illinois still managed to pick up the three additional points it needed before Indiana could stage a comeback.

Kopinski said the Illini felt that they had enough talent to beat the Hoosiers. Nevertheless, she was quick to note that they didn’t necessarily expect such a commanding victory.

“We never try to look ahead for the results,” Kopinski said. “I know Indiana was ranked something in the 20s and we fell off of the grid a little bit, but it is always great to start out 1-0 in the Big Ten.”

Head coach Michelle Dasso thought her team thrived in pressure point situations Sunday, noting that the change back to the old advantage scoring format for Big Ten play really forced the Illini to clean up their game.

“It’s pretty exciting to get our first top-25 win (this season),” Dasso said. “We knew that if we just kept working hard in practice, with a little bit of persistence, we knew it was gonna come.”

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