Illini look to turn things around against Notre Dame on Saturday

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Jeffrey Hsu

Alex Brown returns the ball during a game against Florida at the Atkins Tennis Center on Wednesday.

By Jackson Janes, Staff Writer

Following Sunday’s heartbreaking loss to No. 24 Central Florida, Illinois returns to the Atkins Tennis Center to take on Notre Dame on Saturday. The Illini have lost their last four dual meets but are looking to turn things around against the Fighting Irish in front of a home crowd this weekend.

Despite receiving a preseason No. 19 ranking, the team has struggled early on, highlighted by blowout losses to then-ranked No. 4 North Carolina on Feb. 1 and No. 3 Florida on Friday. Illinois lost a close match to Central Florida this weekend, falling 4-3, despite winning its first three singles matches and first doubles match since Jan. 31, with junior Alex Brown, senior Zeke Clark and sophomore Siphosothando Montsi picking up the victories in singles competition, while Brown and senior Aleks Kovacevic picked up Illinois’ doubles win.

Notre Dame is a familiar foe for Illinois, as both teams competed at the Bayliss Invitational in South Bend, Indiana, to open up the 2019 fall season. In the team’s sole match against a Notre Dame opponent, Illinois redshirt freshman Lucas Horve defeated freshman Matt Che in two sets, 6-2, 6-4.

The teams also competed in a dual meet at the Atkins Tennis Center during the 2019 spring season. The meet saw the then-ranked No. 14 Illini defeat the then-ranked No. 11 Fighting Irish, 4-3, with Kovacevic, Clark and Brown each picking up wins for the Illini.

Notre Dame has been off to a similar start as Illinois so far this spring, coming into Saturday’s meet with a 3-3 record, with wins against Purdue, Florida Atlantic and Boston College.

The Fighting Irish also boast the No. 5 singles player in junior Richard Ciamarra, who’s gone 3-2 in singles matches and 5-1 in doubles matches so far this year. Ciamarra and junior Tristan McCormick also received the No. 32 ranking in doubles competition, as of Feb. 5.

The Illini have four players of their own yielding Oracle/ITA singles rankings, with Brown (No. 18), Montsi (No. 43), Kovacevic (No. 78) and Clark (No. 91) all making the list. Illinois duo Kovacevic and Brown also come in at No. 43 in the doubles rankings.

Illinois is used to playing against high-ranked opponents, as the team has already faced No. 4 Sam Riffice of Florida, No. 7 Gabriel Ducamps of Central Florida and No. 11 Duarte Vale of Florida this season, with the team 1-2 against these opponents.

This meet is huge for the Illini, as they look to gain some momentum before a two-week break. Coming off a semifinal appearance in last year’s NCAA singles tournament, Kovacevic also looks to turn things around after falling in all four singles matches during the Illini’s four-game losing streak.

The meet kicks off at 6 p.m. at Atkins Tennis Center on Saturday.

@jacksonjanes22