Illinois men’s tennis gears up for home rivalry against Northwestern after two tough away losses last weekend at Nebraska, Wisconsin


Photo courtesy of Harry Figiel/Illinois Athletics

Senior Nic Meister prepares for his singles match against Michigan State on April 7. The Illini will be competing against rivals Northwester on Saturday.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

After suffering a 4-2 defeat to Nebraska and a 4-3 loss to Wisconsin last weekend, the 9-13 Illinois roster now sets its sights on Saturday’s home match against Northwestern.

Poor performances across the board in both matches spelled disaster from the get-go for Illinois, as its normally stellar doubles play was lackluster. They went 0-4 in doubles matches on the weekend.

These inconsistencies have haunted the Illini all season. However, the roster is still hungry for wins. The players are focused, taking everything one match at a time.

“I think when you’re having a rough year like we have had, a lot of teams would call it quits or lay down,” senior Nic Meister said. “We need to be aware of every opportunity that is in front of us, such as being able to play Northwestern, a long-time rivalry, and using that as motivation to try and take things one weekend at a time.”

The in-state rivalry between the Wildcats and the Illini has not gone in Northwestern’s favor in recent years. Despite the close 4-3 match last year that saw Illinois come out on top, the team’s been dominant and has the opportunity to extend its rivalry win streak to eight in a row.

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Beating Northwestern this season is no easy feat, however, as the team sits on the cusp of breaking into the top-25. The Wildcats are currently 16-7 overall, 5-2 in the conference and beat top opposition along the way. 

Illinois fell to Duke, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Nebraska earlier in the season, whereas Northwestern won these matches comfortably. The Illini will need something special to win this coming iteration of the Wildcat rivalry match.

Something that helps the team a lot in these tougher matches is the Atkins atmosphere. The team loves having fans on their side, and the home court advantage plays a bigger role in tennis than fans think. Boasting a 6-5 record at home this season — versus a 1-2 neutral and a 2-6 away record — Atkins delivers the team a significant boost mentally.

“I think all of us feel a lot more comfortable and a lot more confident playing at home,” Meister said. “We know that we get a lot of fans out there to support us. These are the courts we practice on all week, and we have had a lot of success at home over the years. Anytime we play at home, our confidence is boosted for sure.”

Illinois also go into this match with updated singles and doubles rankings, featuring four Illini in the top-125. 

Sophomore Hunter Heck went 2-0 in singles this past weekend. Despite this strong performance, Heck unexpectedly dropped 24 places, to No. 98 overall. Graduate student Olivier Stuart went 1-1 this past weekend in singles, which has moved him down eight places to No. 59 overall.

Heck and his teammate redshirt sophomore Lucas Horve went 0-2 in doubles against last week’s opposition, but put in a strong enough performance to see them move up a ranking to No. 56 overall. Stuart and his teammate redshirt junior Siphosothando Montsi went 0-1, with their first match going unfinished while they led 4-3. This performance earned them a six ranking fall, to No. 70 overall.

Atkins will host the 106th meeting between these two teams on Saturday at noon. The match will likely be played outdoors, unless the weather is deemed unfit for playing.



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