Slow start in singles hurts Illinois men’s tennis against Texas A&M

By Mike Gasick, Staff writer

Illinois men’s tennis head coach Brad Dancer was noticeably frustrated after his team’s loss to Texas A&M on Sunday.

Coming off a 1-2 performance at the ITA National Indoor Championships last weekend, the Illini dropped a 4-2 match to the No. 7 Aggies at Atkins Tennis Center.

Illinois opened the match strong after not winning a doubles point in its three matches last weekend. The No. 3 doubles pair of Pengxuan Jiang and Julian Childers broke their Aggie opponent’s serve and did not look back, finishing with a 6-1 victory.

At the No. 2 position, sophomores Aron Hiltzik and Aleks Vukic had a similar start — they took the first three games of the set. The duo would cruise to a 6-2 victory, giving the Illini their first doubles point in over two weeks.

But Dancer said there was a lack of team focus after the doubles matches.

The Illini dropped five of their six first sets, leaving senior Jared Hiltzik as the lone player who took a first set. Dancer said the lack of urgency created a tough situation for his team early on. 

“We didn’t show a championship mentality today,” Dancer said. “I thought our urgency in singles was really poor early on, losing five first sets pretty quickly.”

Illinois, even after its slow start in singles, came back and showed some resiliency. Vukic, ranked No. 12 in the ITA National Player Rankings, took on No. 8 Arthur Rinderknech.

After Rinderknech won the first set with little trouble, Vukic responded with a 7-5 second set victory. Dancer said that Vukic started mixing up his shot placement to move Rinderknech around as much as possible. The Frenchman eventually closed out Vukic with a 6-3 third set victory.

Junior Julian Childers took the second set against his opponent on Court Four but failed to close out the third set with a victory, dropping his match 6-7, 6-3, 2-6.

Illini freshman Asher Hirsch had a rough start to his match at sixth singles. He dropped his first set, 3-6. Hirsch, like some of his teammates, came back and notched a second set victory, 7-6.

His match was eventually suspended after the completion of Vukic’s.

“It was disappointing that we couldn’t get off to a faster start in singles,”Hiltzik said. “I think we’re better than that.”

Dancer was pleased that his team fought back in many of its second sets but understands his team has to come out much stronger in future matches.

“I have to give our guys credit,” Dancer said. “They fought and came back and gave ourselves a chance to win, but you have to give Texas A&M a lot of credit because they just played better than us down the stretch.”

The team’s schedule does not get any easier, as the Illini will host No. 2 Virginia and No. 3 TCU next weekend.

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