Illinois delivers crushing defeat to Iowa, Nebraska  

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Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Junior Kweisi Kenyatte stretches to hit the ball during the match against Iowa on Friday. Illinois swept both Iowa and Nebraska this weekend.

By Enji Erdenekhuyag, Staff Writer

If anything is an indication of how well the season is going for the Illinois men’s tennis team, it’s the back-to-back wins against Big Ten opponents without letting them score a single match point throughout the weekend.

Playing at home, the No. 9 Illini swept Iowa Friday 7-0 and then posted a 4-0 win against Nebraska Sunday, upping their winning streak to four. 

“When you’re doing that, obviously, a lot of things are going right,” said associate head coach Marcos Asse. “It really is just a representation of (how) we were locked in, focused and meticulous with the details.”

Though the Illini put up the dominant victory, the Hawkeyes put up a fight. The first completed match of Friday went to Iowa as the doubles pair of senior Aleks Kovacevic and junior Kweisi Kenyatte dropped theirs, 2-6. Redshirt sophomore Siphosothando Montsi and senior Noe Khlif redirected the momentum by winning their match 6-4. The split results left each team in play for the doubles point, and the third match with senior Zeke Clark and redshirt junior Alex Brown entered into a tiebreaker. The two ultimately secured the doubles point by beating Iowa 7-5. 

In singles, each Illinois player won their matches in straight sets. Of the six matches played, tiebreakers decided three. Despite a close first set of 7-6, Brown pulled away from his opponent in the third game of the second set, winning 6-1. Clark took his first set at 6-3, and the match ended after he won the tiebreak of the second set at 7-6. Likewise, Monsti breezed through his first set at 6-1 but struggled to close out the second set. After a back and forth tiebreaker, Monsti delivered the win at 7-6. 

In between the tiebreak games, Asse walked up to his players several times at the side of the court to help clear their minds, he said. 

“Sometimes it’s a matter of just asking a player what he wants … so he just gets that vision like, ‘I want to do this. This is the play I wanna run,’ and (it) just clarifies and solidifies more,” Asse said. “So, most of the time, it’s little, small tactical reminders. Sometimes it’s just walking up, fist bump, smile, let them know you’re there.”

Sunday marked another successful day of matches for Illinois. With head coach Brad Dancer sitting out due to an NCAA violation, Asse led the team against Nebraska and collected his first win. In doubles play against the Cornhuskers, Brown and Clark arrived at the first win (6-1) while Monsti and Khlif followed shortly after (6-2). 

Illinois’ energy continued to remain unmatched throughout the singles play. Redshirt freshman Lucas Horve played in singles for the first time this season and finished strong with sets of 6-2 and 6-0. The other two matches ended in straight sets as well: Khlif scored 6-0, 6-1, and Monsti won 6-3, 6-2. 

“When you see that the court next to you is doing well, and everyone is doing well, it gives you more energy to keep pushing,” Khlif said. “Obviously, you wanna do well for the team, and seeing all of the guys doing their job on the court, it just helps you. That’s what I think creates a lot of momentum, and once you get momentum, it’s hard for the other guys to come back.”

With Big Ten and NCAA title aspirations down the line, the Illini are determined to progress as a team. Next Sunday, Illinois will host Northwestern, hoping to build on their already well-established record.

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