Illinois men’s tennis looks to rally at home

Illinois%27+Aron+Hiltzik+follows+through+on+a+swing+in+the+meet+against+University+of+Kentucky+on+Friday%2C+Feb.+24+at+the+Atkins+Tennis+Center+in+Urbana.

Brian Bauer

Illinois' Aron Hiltzik follows through on a swing in the meet against University of Kentucky on Friday, Feb. 24 at the Atkins Tennis Center in Urbana.

By Brian Binz, Staff writer

It’s been over a month, but the Illinois men’s tennis team will play a match at home.

The Illini have spent the last five matches away from home, traveling to Texas to face Texas Christian University, then to the west coast to play Cal-Berkeley and Stanford and then back into Big Ten country, playing Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The trip totaled over 5,000 miles and did not do much for the Illini’s record. The team entered with a 9-5 record, but after four-straight losses to start the trip, the Illini won their last game against the Badgers to keep a winning record on the year.

The team can now gain momentum before the postseason with two matches at home this weekend. Illinois will host Iowa and Nebraska on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

“The comfort of playing at home is a big deal,” said head coach Brad Dancer. “It’s the first time in forever for our fans to come on out here and see us.”

The Illini’s No. 1 singles player Aleks Vukic agreed with his coach and said that the familiarity with the courts, as well as the comfort of sleeping in his own bed, will help the Illini in their return home.

Vukic has not struggled as much on the road as the rest of his teammates; the junior now has 13 wins in a row in singles matches. He has risen from the No. 20 spot on the ITA’s college rankings to the No. 6 spot this week and won the Big Ten Tennis Athlete of the Week award last week.

While the wins continue for the Australian native, the personal accolades are not what he wants.

“The team is the priority,” Vukic said. “I’m trying to win for the team. It helps me a lot when others can win; we feed off each other.”

Vukic said that he doesn’t feel any pressure coming from the higher ranking and has goals that he wants to achieve whether the streak continues or not.

Despite the positive end to the road trip, Dancer doesn’t want his players to get too ahead of themselves.

“Every match is unique and different,” Dancer said. “We have to prepare much better as coaches … we’ve just not played well enough the whole season.”

Dancer lamented the inconsistency of the Illini, but reiterated that he thought they have the athletes to maintain a high level of success.

Iowa (11-9, 1-4) and Nebraska (4-12, 0-5) may not have similar records to teams the Illini have played over the last month, but Dancer is wary of the challenge.

“We know they have some good players, we have to get ready to play,” Dancer said. “That’s the most important thing.”

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