Kovacevic shines in MLK Invitational


Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Aleks Kovacevic returns the ball during the match against Wisconsin at Atkins Tennis

By Nithin Reddy, Staff Writer

The Illinois men’s tennis team finished its action before the dual season starts by competing in the MLK Invitational in Atlanta.

The tournament was one of the strongest of the season, but for head coach Brad Dancer, there’s still room for improvement.

“We’re doing some good things and guys are making progress, but we’re not consistent enough across the boards,” Dancer said. “I think that showed all three days.” 

The weekend was headlined by junior Aleks Kovacevic’s play.  The junior went 4-2 with his biggest win of the season coming Sunday when he defeated Jan Zielinski from the University of Georgia.  Zielinski was the No. 2 player in the country and Kovacevic dominated Zielinski winning in straight sets.  

The win led to Kovacevic claiming his first ever Big Ten Men’s Tennis Athlete of the week. As the season approaches it’s apparent that playing quality competition is important to Kovacevic.

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“It’s really good for our confidence and belief to be playing with the guys that are 1, 2, 3, 4 in the nation,” said Kovacevic. “Competing with them and beating them gives me a belief and hope that keeps me going every day.”

In addition to Kovacevic, juniors Vuk Budic, Zeke Clark and sophomore Caleb Chakravarthi played some of their best tennis of the season.  Budic went 5-1 in the tournament and in singles play, defeated Jason Lui from Columbia University, Brandon Freestone from Georgia Tech and Alex Diaz from the University of Georgia. Budic then played doubles with Clark and the tandem went 2-1.

As for Clark, he won every single match in the weekend.  He beat Chris Yun from Georgia Tech, Robert Loeb from the University of Georgia and the No. 28 player in the country in Jackie Tang of Columbia University.

The last piece of the puzzle was Chakravarthi, who went undefeated in singles play. Chakravarthi defeated Alex Phillips from the University of Georgia, William Matheson from Columbia University and Pablo Schelcher from Georgia Tech.

“They are maturing a lot,” Dancer said. “They are starting to understand their game, and they are starting to feel more comfortable in their own skin.  They aren’t pressing anymore.”

The match puts a bookmark in the fall season.  The spring season will be where the Illini compete for a Big Ten Title, and possibly an NCAA Title.  The Illini will be aided by the addition of two new players, freshman Siphosothando Montsi and Alex Bancila.  Montsi has now competed in a total of six matches in his Illini career and is 2-4.  Bancila, on the other hand, has yet to compete but he comes in as a five-star recruit.

Illinois will play its next matches Feb. 1 against Duke University.  This will be the Illini’s first home matches of the year and the official start of the dual season.

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