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

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

No. 23 Illinois men’s tennis rallies to victory over Notre Dame

Senior+Alex+Petrov+celebrates+winning+a+point+against+Duke+on+Feb.+2.
Matt Stepp
Senior Alex Petrov celebrates winning a point against Duke on Feb. 2.

After a slow start to the season, the Illini are nationally ranked. The team rested during their off-week after a long stretch of continuous road matches before getting back to it this weekend.

No. 23 Illinois men’s tennis took on Notre Dame at the Eck Tennis Pavilion in Indiana. The battle between the Illini and the Fighting Irish was a close fight, but Illinois came out on top with a 4-3 victory.

As usual, the doubles came out to a quick and tempo-setting start. Sophomore Kenta Miyoshi and junior Mathis Debru soundly put away Notre Dame’s Brian Bilsey and Nil Giraldez.

Up next, the power duo of No. 3 junior Karlis Ozolins and senior Hunter Heck followed suit with a 6-3 win. They clinched doubles for Illinois and boast a 16-3 record as partners, only behind a pair of duos Big Ten rivals Michigan State and Ohio State in the rankings.

No. 40 Miyoshi continued his momentum from doubles, cruising past the Fighting Irish’s Chase Thompson in straight sets (6-3, 6-2) and increasing the Illini’s lead to 2-0. Ozolins was the next to finish, claiming a straight-set victory on court two. He beat Giraldez 6-2 in the first set and put on a 7-5 thriller to take him down for good.

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However, Notre Dame started to fight back. The Fighting Irish’s Sebastian Dominko got ahead of Heck in the first set 6-2, but the second set was much more contested. Forcing a tiebreaker gave Heck a chance at a third set, but he ultimately fell 7-2 in the additional game. The final score was 6-2, 7-6 (7-2).

Court five saw Notre Dame inch even closer, as graduate student Oliver Okonkwo put up a strong fight against Jean-Marc Malkowski but was defeated in a pair of tightly contested sets, 7-5, 6-4.

The Illini’s lead dwindled to 3-2, and they still needed one of the two remaining matches to swing their way. With the match on the line, senior Alex Petrov used his veteran experience in high-pressure situations. He put away the overall match, 4-2, and tallied another loss for Notre Dame, 6-4, 7-5 in one stroke.

Freshman Jeremy Zhang, who had not seen any singles action since Jan. 20, spent Saturday at court six. Both head coaches agreed ahead of time to leave no matches unfinished, so Zhang’s match continued to a 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 defeat after Illinois won.

Head coach Brad Dancer said he was proud of the team for setting each other up for success and prevailing when obstacles presented themselves.

“I’m super excited to get a road win,” Dancer said. “Karlis and Kenta set the stage today, and Alex was tough as nails when not at his best. We have to be better as coaches of getting our guys to understand situational play.”

The Illini get a week off before hosting Baylor, No. 2 TCU and No. 1 Ohio State within six days of each other. The first serve against Baylor will be on March 1 at 6 p.m.

 

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Matt Stepp
Matt Stepp, Visual Director
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