Illinois men’s tennis concludes MLK Invitational in first weekend of play of 2022

Illinois+Mens+Tennis+Hunter+Heck+hits+the+ball+during+a+match+against+Notre+Dame+on+May+8.+The+Illini+were+away+at+Atlanta+for+the+MLK+Invitational+from+Saturday+to+Monday.+

Photo courtesy of Craig Pessman/Illini Athletics

Illinois Men’s Tennis Hunter Heck hits the ball during a match against Notre Dame on May 8. The Illini were away at Atlanta for the MLK Invitational from Saturday to Monday.

By Drew Friberg, Staff Writer

After nearly a two-month break from competition, the Illini traveled to Atlanta to participate in the MLK Invitational, where they faced Columbia, North Carolina and Georgia Tech.

During this break, the first team poll of the season was released, and Illinois was ranked No. 23 in the nation. Although being ranked 23rd in the country is a privilege for some programs, the Illini are looking to aim higher this season.

“Honestly, we were a bit shocked, and we were almost a little angered by the 23rd seed,” said sophomore Hunter Heck. “Coming off a season where we were Big Ten champs and made it to the NCAA Sweet 16, we thought we deserved to be ranked higher than that.”

With this ranking fresh in the mind of the team, Illinois began its weekend with a tough match against No. 14 North Carolina. 

While the Illini came out flat in their doubles matches, dropping all three, they actually won more singles matches on the day than the Tar Heels. Freshman Gabrielius Guzauskas took down his opponent in two sets, winning 7-6 (9), 6-2. Redshirt sophomore Lucas Horve followed suit with a victory of his own (6-0, 6-3) and Heck achieved a hard-fought victory against 60th-ranked singles player Brian Cernoch, winning the first set 6-4, dropping the second set 7-6 (4) and winning the last set 6-2.

Day two saw Illinois face Georgia Tech, where it would bounce back from its overall loss against North Carolina. Illinois won two of their three doubles matches, with Heck and Horve teaming up to defeat the third-ranked duo of Andres Martin and Marcus McDaniel by a score of 6-3. Senior Nic Meister and graduate student Alex Brown defeated their opponents in convincing fashion as well, winning 6-3. 

In singles play, the Illini were much less dominant, with only two victories on the day. Horve won his match in two sets, winning 6-4 and 6-3, and Meister came back from a first-set loss to win his match, dropping the first set 6-3, but winning the second set 6-3 and the last set 4-0 before his opponent was forced to retire.

On the final day of the tournament, Illinois faced Columbia. Doubles action saw the Illini achieve just one win, as Heck and Horve grinded out a victory by a score of 7-6 (13). In singles, however, the Illini won three matches on the day. Horve racked up another victory, as his opponent retired during their first set at a score of 4-4. Heck concluded his weekend with a win over his opponent in two sets, winning 7-6 (6), and 6-4, and Meister also achieved another comeback, dropping his first set 6-2 but bouncing back to win the next two, 7-5 and 6-4.

With no more breaks for the Illini, this weekend served as a good test for the team ahead of an incredibly tough schedule.

“The struggles we had were good for us,” Heck said when reflecting on the weekend. “Now we know where we are, we know what we need to change, and going into such a tough match like Ohio State, we’re going to be just that much more ready because we know where we are at.”

The Illini have just five days of rest before they are back in action against Ohio State and Chicago State on Saturday.

 

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