The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

8 members of Illinois men’s tennis look to make splash at ITA All-American Championships

Eric Chiang
Hunter Heck and Karlis Ozolins Team Up in Doubles Match Against Wisconsin at Atkins Tennis Center on Apr. 14th.

Following a weekend of competition and a week of full practice, Illinois men’s tennis is back on the road for the ITA All-American Championships. Eight of Illinois’ 11-man roster will be in action throughout the various stages of the pre-qualifying, qualifying and main draws.

Several Illini will enter the competition on a high note thanks to last weekend, with sophomore and Milwaukee Tennis Classic champion Kenta Miyoshi being the highest. Head coach Brad Dancer, who traveled to San Francisco with senior Alex Petrov and junior Karlis Ozolins last weekend, emphasized the point that no matter the circumstances or competition level, winning is a plus.

“It always helps to win matches,” Dancer said. “It never hurts to win matches, so I think any way you can get through helps pump the confidence a little bit.”

On Saturday, graduate student Oliver Okonkwo, redshirt senior Lucas Horve, junior William Mroz and freshman Jeremy Zhang will lead off in the pre-qualifying singles draw. Of the 256 participants in the pre-qualifying draw, the final 16 will advance to qualifying.

Provided some number of Illini advance through the four rounds necessary to claim such a spot, they will join Petrov and senior Hunter Heck on Monday in the 128-man qualifying race for 16 spots in the main draw.

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    Ozolins and Miyoshi begin in the main singles draw. Miyoshi holds a wild card position due to his performance in August’s ITA Summer Championship. The main draw features 64 competitors, with the eventual champion needing to advance through six straight matches.

    It is no doubt a gauntlet, particularly for those hoping to make deep runs via the pre-qualifying and qualifying draws.

    Meanwhile, three quarters of the group will also be occupied with the doubles draw. There is no pre-qualifying doubles draw, so Okonkwo/Horve and Miyoshi/Petrov will serve in the qualifying round on Monday. After three rounds of competition, eight main draw bids are granted to those still standing. 

    Heck and Ozolins, 2023 NCAA All-Americans, earned a spot in the main draw thanks to a No. 23 ranking at the end of last season. They, plus whoever from Illinois makes it out of qualifying, will have four matches ahead of the championship round. 

    The season is still young and Illinois has not had a lot of time to put a specific emphasis on technical needs tailored to the individuals, but as a whole there is no shortage of effort being poured into more encompassing goals. 

    “One of the things we’re getting better with is our physical fitness,” Dancer said. “Our fitness is improving and we’re looking a lot at clarity of the plays that we’re running. So, when we’re playing doubles, what kind of balls we’re trying to draw. Singles, what type of plays we’re trying to run. A lot of defensive work as well, so that defensively we’re not tensing up but enjoying the moment of playing good defensive tennis and so forth.” 



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    About the Contributor
    Conor Blount, Assistant Sports Editor
    My name is Conor Blount. I’m a junior in aerospace engineering with a minor in computer science. I joined The Daily Illini in the summer of 2022 as a beat writer for the sports section and am now one of three assistant sports editors. My first beat was women’s tennis before I moved to women’s basketball in the spring. I also had the pleasure of covering several former Illini at the 2023 NFL draft and NBA summer league. If you have any questions, I can be reached at the email below.