Illinois finishes singles NCAA campaign; Kovacevic, Clark close out final matches of career

Senior+Zeke+Clark+swings+at+the+tennis+ball+during+a+match+against+Norte+Dame+May+8.+Senior+Clark+and+Sophmore+Montsi+made+their+first+time+appearance+at+the+NCAA+Singles+Tournament.+

Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Senior Zeke Clark swings at the tennis ball during a match against Norte Dame May 8. Senior Clark and Sophmore Montsi made their first time appearance at the NCAA Singles Tournament.

By Enji Erdenekhuyag, Staff Writer

Illinois men’s tennis had its standout season studded by three runs in the NCAA singles tournament. Siphosothando Montsi made his first appearance in the competition and so did Zeke Clark. The matches also marked the end of Clark’s and Aleks Kovacevic’s five-year careers at Illinois. 

Each player advanced through the first round with two-setters. Montsi defeated Georgia’s Tyler Zink 6-3, 6-2; Clark cruised past South Carolina’s Connor Thomson 6-2, 6-1; Kovacevic beat Auburn’s Tyler Stice 6-3, 6-2. 

On Sunday, Kovacevic reached the 100th career singles victory milestone after playing at the No. 1 position for most of his time and became the 17th Illini — Clark was the 16th — to join the club.

In the round of 32 the following day, Montsi took down Finn Reynolds from Ole Miss, who was seeded in the 9-16 section of the bracket, in straight sets of 6-4, 7-6 (4). Kovacevic outplayed Eliot Spizzirri from Texas, coming off with a 6-1, 6-3 victory. 

Clark closed out his final match at Illinois with grit when he battled against Adam Walton from Tennessee. Despite the loss, Clark made things tough for his opponent. Walton took the match after winning the close first set tiebreaker 7-6 (6) and the second set 6-4. Clark’s career at Illinois was not only mounted with success on the courts but also cemented with the legacy he’s left among his teammates and coaches. 

Having advanced to the Sweet 16, Montsi and Kovacevic earned All-American status. The honor is Montsi’s first and Kovacevic’s second, with his first coming in from 2019. 

Montsi wrapped up his postseason Tuesday against Florida’s No. 6 Sam Riffice. The two played each other in the national championship — also in the round of 16 — before their match was called unfinished after Florida’s subsequent 4-0 victory over Illinois. Montsi fell in sets of 6-2, 6-0. As a redshirt sophomore, Montsi undoubtedly will be a force to be reckoned with at Illinois for years to come. 

Playing against North Carolina State’s Alexis Galarneau, Kovacevic fought his way through three sets. Kovacevic and Galarneau are both top-500 players in the Association of Tennis Professionals, and the match surely showcased that. After having dropped his first set at 6-4, Kovacevic rallied to take the final two 6-4 and 6-0. 

In the quarterfinals Wednesday, Kovacevic faced the No. 2 seeded Daniel Rodrigues from South Carolina. Rodrigues kept a tough hold throughout the entirety of the match. Though Kovacevic would send games into deuces, Rodrigues was the one to reel in the point. Kovacevic dropped his first set 6-1 and ultimately lost his second at 6-3. 

Just like Clark, Kovacevic’s years at Illinois are highlighted by outstanding contributions to the program and his peers. In the coming months, the two vetted seniors will look to play professionally. 

 

[email protected]