Illinois men’s tennis picks up win over No. 22 North Carolina, splits Saturday’s matches

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Sidney Malone

Graduate student Alex Brown rushes towards the ball during his singles event during the meet against Duke on Saturday. Brown won his match against North Carolina 6-1, 7-5, and 6-3.

By Drew Friberg, Staff Writer

After a long weekend of tough matches, Illinois moved to 3-6 on the season after picking up huge wins against Northern Kentucky and No. 22 North Carolina.

What has been a lackluster start to the season for Illinois may now be transforming before fans’ eyes. Although the team lost its first match of the weekend to Duke, 4-2, the team put together two excellent performances to win the rest of their matches on the weekend.

The Illini’s match against the Blue Devils was off from the start, with Duke winning the doubles point. While the No. 59 pair of sophomore Hunter Heck and redshirt sophomore Lucas Horve picked up a 6-4 win on Court 1, the Blue Devils were able to clinch the point with a 7-5 win on Court 2.

Singles would continue the way doubles went for the Blue Devils, as they would win three singles points in quick succession. The only singles wins for the Illini came from graduate student Alex Brown, who came back to win his match on Court 3, 6-1, 7-5, 6-3, and a win in straight sets by Heck, 6-3, 6-2. Duke’s win was clinched after Brown’s comeback with a win on Court 6, which then moved the Illini to 1-6 on the season.

The Norse of Northern Kentucky was the perfect opportunity for the Illini to gain some momentum going into Sunday’s match against the Tar Heels. In doubles, Illinois started strong, as a Court 3 victory by Brown and freshman Gabrielius Guzauskas started off what would be a perfect match for the Illini, 6-0. Clinching the doubles point for the Illini on Court 2 was graduate student Olivier Stuart and redshirt junior Siphosothando Montsi with a 6-2 win.

The Illini breezed through singles against the Norse without dropping a set. Guzauskas, Brown and sophomore Alex Petrov all won their matches with ease before Heck clinched the match for the Illini on Court 4. The Illini won this match, 5-0, and went into Sunday’s match against the Tar Heels ready to go.

Atkins was ready for the Illini’s match against the No. 22 Tar Heels, as it had its highest number of spectators all weekend. The fans got to witness an incredible match that lasted over three hours long.

In doubles, all three matches went to extra games. Although a solid effort by the Illini, the Tar Heels won the doubles point with a win on Court 1 and 2. 

In singles play, the Illini would bounce back stronger. Close matches all around led to four of the six matches going to a third set. Heck was the first to win a match in singles, as he beat his opponent, 7-6, 6-2.

After a win on Court 2 put the Tar Heels up 2-1 on the day, the rest of the matches went on for over an hour before there was another win. Court 1 heroics saw Montsi win the next point for the Illini, thanks to incredible plays by the redshirt junior that led to an extra point being given after his opponent smashed the Court 1 sign in frustration.

This was the momentum swing that the Illini needed to win the match. Soon after Montsi’s win, Brown completed his comeback on Court 4 after a grueling match. Finally, the Illini’s 4-2 win was clinched by Guzauskas on Court 5, after the freshman won his last set, 7-5. 

Taking down No. 22 North Carolina was bigger than just today’s match, as it has been years in the making for some members of the team.

“In my five years here we’ve never beat UNC,” Brown said. “Getting that first real win at home is big. It felt really good.”

The Illini get a weekend off from competition this next week and will resume matches on March 4, when they welcome Baylor to Atkins for their 10th match of the season.

 

@DrewFriberg9

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