Illinois men’s tennis ends regular season with wins over Eastern Illinois, Indiana, Purdue


Graduate Student Olivier Stuart hops into position to prepare for the opposing team on Feb. 19. Illinois went on to win three matches leading to the conclusion of the season on Sunday.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

Illinois men’s tennis’ regular season officially came to its conclusion on Sunday, with its final weekend producing wins over Eastern Illinois, Indiana and Purdue.

After a win over No. 28 Northwestern last weekend, the Illini ended the season on a four-win streak, and a 13-13 overall record (5-4 in conference). This earned them a 6th place ranking in the Big Ten and a No. 52 ranking overall according to ITA last Wednesday.

Illinois’ first match of its busy weekend began on Friday morning against Eastern Illinois. The Illini had an impressive match overall, as they swept the Panthers without dropping a set.

Starting off in doubles, freshman Gabrielius Guzauskas and graduate student Alex Brown won the Court 1 duel 6-2, just before Court 3 was won by graduate student Olivier Stuart and sophomore Hunter Heck, 6-4. These wins put the Illini up 1-0 after just 30 minutes of tennis played.

Singles was much of the same from Illinois, as it started off with a Court 1 win by Heck, who won 6-1, 6-1. Guzauskas followed suit, winning his Court 6 match 6-2, 6-1, and the match was clinched by a 6-2, 6-2 win on Court 2 by Stuart. The Illini swept the Panthers 4-0 in just over an hour of singles play.

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Illinois’ afternoon match against Indiana did not go nearly as smoothly. 

Going into this match, Indiana was 0-7 in conference, sitting dead last in the Big Ten. This match was supposed to be no trouble for the Illini, but the Hoosiers proved to be a greater test than anticipated.

Doubles started off extremely poor from the Illini, as they dropped matches on Court 1 and Court 3 extremely quickly, giving the Hoosiers a 1-0 lead in the match.

Singles play saw the Illini put up more of a fight than in doubles. Stuart defeated his opponent first with a win on Court 3, 6-1, 6-1, which leveled the match at 1-1. Heck was the next to find a victory, winning on Court 1, 6-1, 6-3. 

After this bout on Court 1 ended, the wind at Atkins Tennis Center picked up to 26 mph during the match. This caused close matches for the remainder of the day, which added to many players’ frustrations.

Court 2’s match featuring redshirt junior Siphosothando Montsi and Indiana’s Patrick Fletchall embodied this frustration completely, producing many puzzled facial expressions from Montsi, and Fletchall at one point exclaiming “Dude, what is this wind? This is impossible.”

Montsi eventually won this match 6-4, 6-4, putting the Illini on match point. However, Indiana’s strong surge despite the conditions saw them win Court 5 and Court 6 just after. The match was tied 3-3 at this point, meaning it all came down to Brown on Court 4.

Brown was in the third set down 3-5 when Guzauskas fell on Court 6. Brown battled back, winning four straight points and clinched the match for Illinois. This was Illinois’ closest match of the season, as it truly came down to a tiebreaker in the last set after two and a half hours of tennis.

Two days passed before Illinois’ final match of the regular season against Purdue. Doubles play started off well for the Boilermakers, as the pair of Heck and redshirt sophomore Lucas Horve dropped their match on Court 1. Illinois bounced back from this with a 6-1 win by Stuart/Montsi and clinched the doubles point with a 6-4 win by Brown/Guzauskas. 

Singles play saw an extraordinary performance from Stuart, who doubled the Illini’s lead with a 6-0, 6-0 win over his opponent on Court 3. Following this performance, Heck took down his opponent to put the Illini on match point with a 6-3, 6-2 win on Court 1. The match was clinched by senior Nic Meister with his 6-3, 6-3 win on Court 5, capping off an incredible final weekend for Illinois.

Heck ended the season undefeated in singles in the Big Ten and undefeated on Court 1. With all three doubles teams ranked high and Stuart also ending the season on a win streak, the team is coming together and hitting stride at the perfect time, just four days before the Big Ten tournament.

Additionally, Sunday’s match against Purdue was senior day for Illinois, as they honored Montsi, Brown and Stuart’s time with the Illini. Despite just spending a year with Illinois, Stuart was extremely happy to be honored by his team, especially after his 6-0, 6-0 win earlier in the day in singles.

“I was supposed to graduate in 2020, the COVID-19 year, so I never got a senior day (at Mercer),” Stuart said. “Having it here is honestly really incredible. It’s a huge place, a great team and I love being here.”

Illinois’ postseason adventure begins on Thursday in Madison, Wisconsin against an opponent that is still TBD. According to Big Ten rankings on Sunday afternoon, they will face tournament hosts Wisconsin in a rematch of a match played two weeks ago, which saw the Badgers win, 4-3.



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