Illini sweep Big Ten foes in convincing fashion


Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Senior Zeke Clarke and redshirt freshman Alex Bancila speak between games during the match against Penn State on Feb. 19. The Illinois men’s tennis team captured two road wins against Minnesota and Wisconsin this weekend.

By Enji Erdenekhuyag, Contributing Writer

Playing on the road comes with its challenges, but the No. 8 Illinois men’s tennis team came out on top of the busy weekend with grit in both singles and doubles play.

For the first two away matches of the season, Illinois traveled to Wisconsin and Minnesota. Head coach Brad Dancer and his players were able to return home with convincing wins over the two teams.

“Anytime you go on the road, it’s never easy to adjust and adapt to the different variables out there,” Dancer said. “I think our guys did a great job this weekend of doing that and getting out there and staying tough.”

On Friday, the Illini took on the Badgers for a second time this season and beat them 6-1 on both match days. In doubles play, redshirt junior Alex Brown and senior Zeke Clark set the tone as they dominated the court, winning 6-3. Soon after, redshirt sophomore Siphosothando Montsi and junior Kweisi Kenyatte finished 6-4, taking home their third victory as a pair this spring.

As for singles, the Illini won five of their six matches. Senior Noe Khlif claimed two straight-sets (6-2, 6-1), and Monsti followed suit with a straight-set of 6-3, 6-1. Clark took his first set at 6-4, lost his second at 4-6 but secured the match by finishing his third set at 6-3. The remaining two matches encountered a couple of tiebreakers: Brown won his first set 7-6 in a tie-break and delivered the win going 3-6 and 6-4 in his remaining sets while Kenyatte entered into a back and forth with two tie-breaks, ultimately winning 6-4, 6-7, 10-7.

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The team then came off with a solid 5-2 victory over Minnesota on Sunday. Although Montsi and Kenyatte lost 4-6 to the Gophers in doubles, the Brown and Clark duo arrived at a 6-1 blowout win. Redshirt freshman Alex Bancila and senior Aleks Kovacevic clinched a 7-6 win, securing the doubles points for the team.

Illinois also continued to prevail in singles play, winning four of the six matches. Kovacevic and Clark were influential in guiding the team to their success. Kovacevic finished first with back-to-back sets, scored both at 6-2. Clark’s win followed as he closed his match at 6-4 and 6-1. The victory contributed to Clark’s winning streak in singles, setting it at six with zero losses this season.

“It’s really, really exciting to me to get wins,” Dancer said. “Our boss told me a couple weeks ago, momentum and pride matter.”

Unlike last season, Illinois, along with the rest of the Big Ten teams, is scheduled to play every weekend. Balancing time to recover and prepare for upcoming matches without the usual, prolonged breaks is tricky, Dancer said. But he credits the players’ physical and mental fortitude in continuing to perform at a high level to carry out wins.

Dancer hopes to build on the progress they’ve been making and acknowledges that the team must remain confident.

“We’ve gotta get a little bit better at how we plan for points and then sticking to that plan … when the going gets tough,” Dancer said. “We got away from that a little bit in some of our doubles play, and I think we can just do a lot better job of trusting our games.”

The weekend’s matches brought Illinois’ record to 6-2 as they now prepare to host Iowa Friday and Nebraska Sunday at the Atkins Tennis Center.


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