Illini men’s tennis fails to make it past 1st round of NCAA tournament


Eric Chiang

Oliver Okonkwo against Gabriel Huber from Wisconsin in tennis singles on April 14. However, Illini fails to make that next step up in the 2023 spring season.

By Martin O'Connor, Staff Writer

Illinois men’s tennis was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament by Arizona State, losing 4-3 and in turn ending their 2023 spring season. This leaves the Illini with a 19-12 record on the season in a year where the team hoped to make a statement and submit themselves as an elite tennis team. However, with the season wrapped up now, the Illini will feel as though they left some food on their plates.

The team started their season off at the Sun Devil Hidden Dual where they won seven out of the 10 matches they played against Arizona State players. Unfortunately for them, history did not repeat itself, as the Sun Devils were able to capitalize against an inconsistent Illini team.

The matchup played in Cambridge, Massachusetts started with a bad doubles loss when graduate student Oliver Okonkwo and sophomore Mathis Debru suffered a 6-0 defeat to Max McKennon and Murphy Cassone. Things looked to be getting better when redshirt junior Lucas Horve and sophomore Gabrielius Guzauskas fought hard to win the next match 7-5 over Roi Ginat and Nicola Cigna. With a chance to secure the doubles point, sophomore Karlis Ozolins and junior Hunter Heck fought a back-and-forth match till the end, but came up on the other side as they lost 7-6 (5) to Constantinos Koshis and Jacob Bullard.

Things looked to be getting better for the Illini as they won the next three singles matches. Heck disposed of McKennon 6-0, 6-1 and Alex Petrov then won his match against Koshis 6-1, 6-2 while Kenta Miyoshi picked up the third win over Cigna 6-2, 6-3. That was all the success the Illini would enjoy for the rest of the day, however, as they would then go on to lose their next three matches and the matchup. After Miyoshi’s win, Ozolins lost 7-6 (3), 7-5 to Cassone, Okonkwo lost another close matchup 7-6 (5), 7-5 to Bullard and sophomore William Mroz wrapped up the tennis season with a loss to Ginat 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.

The NCAA tournament is the perfect example of how the Illini aren’t ready to make that next step up in the tennis team rankings. They will need to work hard this offseason to reach their full potential next season. Consistency was a big problem this year; however, with many younger players on the team, this season’s gained experience will help them immensely going forward.

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