Illinois enters match against in-state rival Northwestern with momentum

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Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Redshirt sophomore Siphosothando Montsi returns the ball during the match against Iowa on March 5. Illinois will play against Northwestern tomorrow.

By Enji Erdenekhuyag, Staff Writer

Coming off of a doubleheader hot streak last weekend, the Illinois men’s tennis team will try to continue their reign in the Big Ten against Northwestern Sunday at Atkins Tennis Center.

With a little bit over a month remaining in the regular season, No. 9 Illinois boasts an 8-2 record after besting Iowa (7-0) and Nebraska (4-0), while No. 29 Northwestern holds a record of 5-2.

The Illini have yet to lose a match to the Wildcats since 2016, but Northwestern is capable of reversing the trend. Associate head coach Marcos Asse referred to the Wildcats as “one of the toughest pieces of the puzzle” for the team.

“If you look at them, they’re just like us,” Asse said. “They’ve got good players to the top and bottom of the lineup. I don’t think anybody’s gonna have an easy match going into it. They’ve got servers and big hitters, their doubles good, I know. We’re expecting a dogfight. Our guys are ready — they know what they’re getting into. Nobody’s taking Northwestern lightly.”

Like Illinois, Northwestern swept Iowa and Nebraska this past weekend, winning 6-1 against the Hawkeyes and 4-0 against the Cornhuskers. To push past the Wildcats, the Illini need to do as they have been doing throughout most of the season: be persistent in all areas of play.

The team can rely on redshirt sophomore Siphosothando Montsi to help draw a point in singles play, as his performance has been unrelenting. Having improved significantly since last season, Montsi will enter the Northwestern match 8-0 with five straight-set wins. On Tuesday, the Big Ten Conference awarded Montsi with his first career Men’s Tennis Athlete of the Week award.

Also keen to keep the momentum for the team is senior Noe Khlif. On top of his solid 4-1 record in singles, he and Montsi recently paired up to play at the third position. The duo was able to help clinch the doubles point in the last two matches, and Asse has recognized their efforts.

“They didn’t take one point off,” Asse said. “It was, I thought, a tremendous job of (positions) one and three, just marching your march and not letting anything distract you.”

When the match starts at 3 p.m. central time, the Illini will strive to achieve their sixth straight win.

“We just have to take every day one at a time and just play every match with the same energy and same focus,” Khlif said.