Illinois men’s tennis fails to defend Big Ten Championship title, falls in semifinals to No. 2 Michigan after quarterfinal upset

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Freshman Gabrielius Guzauskas races to return to the opposing team on Sunday against Purdue. Guzauskas managed to qualify Illinois to the semi-finals against Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the illini were unable to obtain the Big Ten Championship victory.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

Illinois’ week in Madison was cut short by the No. 2 seeded Michigan Wolverines, who won by a score of 4-0 on Saturday afternoon. The result comes just a day after Illinois pulled off an impressive 4-1 upset over tournament hosts No. 3 Wisconsin.

Friday’s match against Wisconsin served as a great opportunity to bounce back from the unfortunate 4-3 loss just a few weeks ago. The Illini took this match with great ease, putting up a dominant performance throughout.

Before this match, sophomore Hunter Heck cited the confidence the team was feeling as part of the reason why the lineup wasn’t afraid of the Badgers.

“They’re obviously a really tough team,” Heck said. “I just think we’re going into this match a little more confident. I don’t think our team was really in the best mindset going into that match.”

With this confidence and a good run of form under the Illini’s belt, Friday’s match started with a hotly contested doubles point. The Badgers took Court 1 after graduate student Alex Brown and freshman Gabrielius Guzauskas took Court 2, 6-3. Court 3’s battle went to a tiebreaker, where the Badgers eventually clinched the point with a 7-6(5) win over graduate student Olivier Stuart and redshirt junior Siphosothando Montsi. 

Despite the hosts going up 1-0 going into singles, the Illini’s confidence never faltered, as they swept in singles. The sweep started off with a 6-4, 6-3 Court 4 win by Brown, followed by a 7-5, 6-2 win on Court 3 by Stuart to put Illinois up 2-1. Montsi’s 6-4, 6-3 win on Court 2 extended the lead to 3-1, before Guzauskas clinched the Illini’s bid to the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 win on Court 6.

With Illinois’ confidence ever-growing, its win streak extended to five, and boasting a positive record for the first time this season, the team geared up to face the No. 2 seeded Michigan Wolverines in the semifinals.

Michigan won the last meeting between these two teams on April 1 by a score of 4-1. This was always going to be a tough match for Illinois despite its good run of form.

Saturday’s doubles action set the pace for the rest of the day. Heck and partner redshirt sophomore Lucas Horve won the Court 1 duel 6-3, before the Wolverines collected two wins on Courts 2 and 3. The doubles point fell to Michigan quickly.

Singles play saw no headway made by Illinois, as only Stuart won a set on the day for Illinois. After just an hour of singles, Michigan won points on Courts 4, 5 and 1 to clinch its berth into the Big Ten Championship match after a 4-0 victory on the day.

With this match, the Illini’s chance at back-to-back Big Ten titles was over. This was the last Big Ten action of the season, and potentially Illinois’ final match of the season.

This week, the Illini’s future this season will be cemented after the NCAA Tournament draw. After ending the season ranked 54th according to ITA tennis collegiate rankings, Illinois is likely one of the last teams in the tournament.

After an underwhelming Saturday performance, the Illini’s future is no longer in their hands. 

 

@DrewFriberg9

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