Illini of the Week March 2: Aleks Vukic

By Mike Gasick

Tweet: [email protected] sophomore @Vuki_SMASH23 knocked off the No. 3 player in the country to snag #Illini of the Week honors

Editor’s note: The Daily Illini sports desk sits down each week and decides which Illinois athlete or coach is our Illini of the Week. Athletes and coaches are evaluated by individual performance and contribution to team success.

Saturday’s Illinois men’s tennis match had a different vibe and atmosphere than the other home matches this year.

The crowd was at full capacity on the two elongated bleachers next to the court, as well as the sets of benches on the top level of Atkins Tennis Center.

Sophomore Aleks Vukic, ranked No. 9 in the ITA National Player Rankings was up against No. 3 Thai-Son Kwiatkowski of the No. 2 Virginia Cavaliers on court two. 

“The crowd was unreal, and the team could not have done it without them,” Vukic said. “With all the three-setters we had, we could not have done it without them.”Repetitious (IL)

Vukic was up an early break in the first set but Kwiatkowski broke him with Vukic leading 4-3. They traded games the rest of the way, but Vukic strung together the first seven points of the tiebreaker to take the set 7-6 (7-0).

In the second set, Vukic could not get much momentum on his side after having his serve broken early in the second set. Kwiatkowski would come out on top at 6-3IL by moving his opponent around the court, forcing him to hit a variety of shots.

As the top-10 matchup entered the third set, the Illini were down 3-2 in the match against the Cavaliers with Julian Childers and Asher Hirsch still playing, giving the Illini a chance at victory.

Vukic came out firing to start the third set, jumping in front of Kwiatkowski, 3-0. The Australian native held his serve and surged ahead to take a 5-2 lead.

An upset looked promising for Vukic and the Illini.

Childers, on court four, was defeated 7-6, ILjust as Vukic entered his next third-set game on serve. Hirsch, who was up 5-4 on court six, was serving for his respective match. 

Kwiatkowski quickly broke Vukic’s serve, forcing him to break the third-ranked Cavalier’s serve to win.

And he did.

Seconds after Hirsch finished off his opponent on court six, Vukic would complete the upset with a match point backhand down the line.

Vukic was mobbed by his teammates at the conclusion of the point. Parts of the roaring crowd rushed onto the court to join the team in celebration. 

The players and students put their arms around each other to sing the Alma Mater.

That doesn’t happen at every home match.

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@mike_mgasick