No. 12-ranked Illini snag early victories in spring play


jeffrey hsu

Senior Aleks Kovacevic returns a ball during Illinois’ match against Missisippi at the Atkins Tennis Center on Friday. The Illini took home several victories when they competed at the Martin Luther King Jr. Invitational Jan. 18-20 in Atlanta, Georgia.

By Meghan Rest

The Illinois men’s tennis team, recently ranked No. 12 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, has begun spring play with several matches over the past couple weeks, beginning with a trip to Atlanta, Georgia, Jan. 18-20 for the Martin Luther King Jr. Invitational. The Illini faced host Georgia Tech of the Atlantic Coast Conference, South Carolina of the Southeastern Conference and Columbia of the Ivy League.

The Illini saw plenty of success against the home court Yellow Jackets, seeing a 5-2 victory in singles competition and a 2-2 tie in doubles competition for an overall record of 7-4 on the day.

The next day, Illinois faced a tougher foe in then-ranked No. 16 South Carolina. Despite a 6-6 overall tie (4-4 in singles, 2-2 in doubles), a significant victory came for Illini senior Aleks Kovacevic, who defeated reigning NCAA singles champion Paul Jubb in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3.

“It was a really good win for me, (and I) obviously got a little bit of revenge from the NCAA semifinals,” Kovacevic, who fell to Jubb in the penultimate round of the NCAA singles tournament in May, said. “(The win) shows that I can play at a level that some of the top college guys have.”

The Illini closed the tournament with a match against then-tied No. 19 Columbia. This would be the toughest matchup for Illinois, with the Illini going 3-9 against the Lions, 3-5 in singles play, 0-4 in doubles.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

The Illini then returned home to host a branch of the ITA Kickoff Weekend on Jan. 24 and 25.

Illinois went up against Ole Miss of the SEC to start the tournament. Despite keeping it close for the entire meet, the Illini eventually fell to the Rebels, 3-4. Redshirt freshman Lucas Horve dropped the final match of the meet against German sophomore Simon Junk, an intense three-set match, 7-6 (7), 1-6, 6-7 (7).

Horve called the match a “war.”

“I like to make matches as long and as physical as (he) can, just to break down the other guy,” Horve said. “In the end, they usually go my favor. That day was just a little different, but that’s that. You just gotta keep moving forward.”

Illinois played the following day in a consolation match against Texas Tech of the Big 12, with the Illini succeeding 4-1. Following the loss to Ole Miss, the Illini dominated the matchup, with Kovacevic saying they “took their anger out” during the meet following a disappointing loss.

Illinois coach Brad Dancer praised the team’s seniors during the match.

“(They) did a phenomenal job, saying ‘Yes, this is where we are, this is who we are, this is what we stand for,’” Dancer said.

The Illini will travel to the Research Triangle to take on the Duke Blue Devils on Friday followed by a match against the North Carolina Tar Heels on Saturday.

Dancer said he had a few concerns going into the weekend matchups.

“Winning at Duke on a Friday night, they always have a great crowd against the Illini,” Dancer said. “To win down there is incredibly difficult.”

The short turnaround is also crucial for the Illini, with Dancer saying, “We’re gonna turn around the next day and play arguably, on paper, maybe the best team in college tennis. North Carolina’s absolutely stacked this year in terms of the talent they have throughout their lineup. This is gonna be a tough, tough road trip.”

Following the road trip to Duke and North Carolina, the Illini host the Florida Gators on Feb. 7, followed by the University of Central Florida Knights on Feb. 9.

[email protected]