Illinois men’s tennis knocks off No. 26 Northwestern, snaps two match loss streak

Sophomore+Hunter+Heck+sets+his+position+to+hit+ball+back+to+the+opposing+team+on+Mar.+4.%0AHeck+gave+a+team+leading+performance+in+doubles+and+singles++against+Northwestern+on+Saturday+which+ended+with+a+4-1+Illini+victory.

Sidney Malone

Sophomore Hunter Heck sets his position to hit ball back to the opposing team on Mar. 4. Heck gave a team leading performance in doubles and singles against Northwestern on Saturday which ended with a 4-1 Illini victory.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

Following huge performances by veterans of the roster and new faces alike, Illinois took down No. 26 Northwestern, 4-1, at home on Saturday.

Last week, the Illini fell to Nebraska for the first time in program history and snapped an 11-match win streak against Wisconsin. A bad run of form, going into a match against a top-three Big Ten program, the mentality had to be right.

“I think we feel confident that despite not performing to the standards that we typically hold ourselves to, that we have the talent and the guys to be able to beat them (Northwestern),” senior Nic Meister said Friday morning. “I think we all believe that. It is just a matter of doing it.”

Come Saturday, the Illini started off differently than usual. Due to an absence by redshirt sophomore Lucas Horve, the doubles lineups were scrambled.

Instead of the No. 56 pair of Horve and sophomore Hunter Heck on Court 1, Heck teamed up with graduate student Olivier Stuart on Court 2 for doubles. This change forced freshman Gabrielius Guzauskas and graduate student Alex Brown to play on Court 1.

This change did not faze the Illini, however, as Heck/Stuart cruised to a Court 2 victory, 6-3, just seconds after Guzauskas/Brown triumphed on Court 1, 6-2. Illinois led Northwestern 1-0 after doubles play.

Going into singles, Heck played at the Court 1 spot for just the second time this season. Following a loss on Court 4 that leveled the score at 1-1, Heck maintained his perfect Court 1 record with a 7-6, 6-4, win over No. 30 Steven Forman. Just minutes after Heck put the Illini ahead, Guzauskas won his bout on Court 6 with back-to-back 6-3 set wins. This big performance from the freshman put the Illini on match point.

The match was settled with redshirt junior Siphosothando Montsi’s 7-6(5), 6-4, win on Court 2, in which he came back from being down by a large deficit in the first set. 

Illinois upset Northwestern 4-1 and maintained their firm grasp on the in-state Big Ten rivalry. Winning this one meant more though, as it has been a rocky few weeks for the program.

“The team showed real grit there to bounce back from such a tough weekend,” Heck said. “Those were definitely a couple of rough losses (to Nebraska and Wisconsin), but we bounced back and I’m really, really happy with the team.”

Following big wins this season, the Illini have been unable to maintain good form. Making sure to carry momentum from Saturday’s win into the quickly approaching postseason is imperative for the team’s success.

“We’re just going to try to keep rolling,” Heck said. “We’ve had a tough loss after all of our good wins this year, so we are just going to try to keep momentum and go even harder this week in practice.”

Just two matches in conference remain for the Illini as they host the Hoosiers of Indiana and the Boilermakers of Purdue next weekend. These matches are incredibly important for seeding for the Big Ten tournament, which is just two weeks away.

 

@DrewFriberg9

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