Illinois men’s tennis faces off against No. 1 TCU, UIC, No. 4 Baylor in tough matches at Atkins

Redshirt+junior+Siphosothando+Montsi+performs+a+backhand+swing+during+his+doubles+match+with+graduate+student+Oliver+Stuart+against+Duke+on+Feb.+19.+The+Illini+will+be+having+3+home+meets+this+weekend+against+Baylor%2C+UIC%2C+and+TCU.+

Sidney Malone

Redshirt junior Siphosothando Montsi performs a backhand swing during his doubles match with graduate student Oliver Stuart against Duke on Feb. 19. The Illini will be having 3 home meets this weekend against Baylor, UIC, and TCU.

By Drew Friberg, Staff Writer

Following a weekend break from matches, the 3-6 Illini will be put to the test this weekend at Atkins, with matches against No. 1 TCU Horned Frogs, the No. 4 Baylor Bears and the UIC Flames. 

Last time out, the Illini went 2-1 on their weekend, beating the Norse of Northern Kentucky and achieving an intense victory over the then-No. 22 Tar Heels of North Carolina.

Before the Illini’s match against the Norse, the team sat at 1-6 on the season. The two wins they achieved on the weekend were integral for the rest of the season. 

“It was a much-needed win,” said head coach Brad Dancer about his team’s win against North Carolina. “At a certain point you just want to get the bleeding stopped, and hopefully that’s what that did and we can build on it.”

Heading into a tough weekend of matches, the Illini will start their weekend with a match against No. 4 Baylor on Friday. Sitting at 14-1 on the season, the Bears look to be the real deal.

High-profile wins over No. 9 Kentucky, No. 16 Oklahoma and No. 14 Ole Miss within the past two weeks have skyrocketed the Bears in the rankings, as their only loss this season has come to No. 2 Tennessee. Baylor will be the team’s toughest match yet this season, and the intensity shown in the Illini’s match against the Tar Heels will be needed once again.

The Illini’s match against the struggling 1-10 Flames of UIC will be a great way to start off Saturday’s matches. UIC is currently on a seven-match losing streak, with its most recent loss coming at the hands of Chicago State. Chicago State was Illinois’ first win of the season, and the Illini dominated the match with ease, 4-0. While the Illini will need to be locked in and focused to beat any team, UIC should serve as a good warmup for the Illini’s final match of the weekend.

Illinois’ last match of the weekend is against the newly ranked No. 1 Horned Frogs of TCU. TCU has been on a tear, knocking off the No. 1 team in the rankings two separate times in Florida and Ohio State.

The Horned Frogs also beat the No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers with ease this past weekend, just one day after beating Ohio State. If the Illini are looking to win against the Horned Frogs on Saturday, the team’s best tennis will need to be on display from the first serve.

Preparing for such tough opposition week in and week out is tricky, especially when there are only a few days in between matches and travel that allow for the team to work on anything major. The weekend off from competition this past weekend has allowed Dancer and his staff to help his team strengthen their weaknesses ahead of this Friday and approaching conference play.

“We’ve put a little bit more emphasis on our singles play,” Dancer said. “I think our doubles play has been fair this season, but our singles play has been less than adequate.”

Illinois is in for a tough weekend of matches no matter how you look at it. With momentum from the team’s win against the Tar Heels and a fully rested lineup going into Friday, the Illini will try and reintroduce themselves this weekend. Three wins from the weekend will send the Illini back into top-25 contention and back to an even record on the season.

Action at Atkins will start at 6 p.m. Friday with the team’s first match against Baylor. Saturday morning at noon the Illini will welcome the Flames, followed later by the team’s 6 p.m. bout against TCU.

 

@DrewFriberg9

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