Illini to make most of fall semester

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Illini to make most of fall semester

Illinois’ Aleks Kovacevic returns the ball during the match against Duke at Atkins Tennis Center on Feb. 1. The Illini won 6-1. The team has a busy schedule planned for the fall semester.

Illinois’ Aleks Kovacevic returns the ball during the match against Duke at Atkins Tennis Center on Feb. 1. The Illini won 6-1. The team has a busy schedule planned for the fall semester.

Jonathan Bonaguro

Illinois’ Aleks Kovacevic returns the ball during the match against Duke at Atkins Tennis Center on Feb. 1. The Illini won 6-1. The team has a busy schedule planned for the fall semester.

Jonathan Bonaguro

Jonathan Bonaguro

Illinois’ Aleks Kovacevic returns the ball during the match against Duke at Atkins Tennis Center on Feb. 1. The Illini won 6-1. The team has a busy schedule planned for the fall semester.

By Meghan Rest, Sports Editor

The men’s tennis team is no stranger to success. But after finishing second at the Big Ten Championship and sending two athletes to the NCAA tournament, the Illini are focused on one thing this fall: Making the most out of opportunities.  

While Illinois’ regular tennis season doesn’t officially begin until January with conference play scheduled to start the first week in March, the fall is still a busy time for the team. Illinois’ fall season is sprinkled with tournaments in all corners of the country, but these aren’t any old college contests. 

In contrast to the team’s spring schedule, the fall docket boasts a slew of professional tournaments. 

According to head coach Brad Dancer, the fall months are filled with a mix of college and professional outings, where athletes are not only exposed to different levels of tennis but also opportunities to boost their rankings and improve overall. 

“You look at our (fall) calendar, and it looks just absolutely jam-packed,” Dancer said. “The difference is not everybody is going to play every single week. So what we’re looking at will be two guys here, two guys here. But we stay within APAC limits in terms of missed class days and so forth. We’re always balancing it, and obviously, academics is a huge priority for everyone on the team, so we find a way to balance that, and other than that, we try to get a good mix of college and pro events where they’re getting exposure throughout the year, but they’re also working on their college ranking, pro ranking and trying to figure out where they fit in both ways.”

Dancer said the coaching staff is using the build-up to the regular season as time to test athletes and provide ample exposure. Come springtime, the Illini will be more focused on mental, according to Dancer.

Dancer and the team kicked off their fall season by hosting the Illini Open, the third of four professional tournaments that have, and will, come to the Atkins Tennis Center this year. The Open began on Friday and will continue through tomorrow. But while the home pro tourney has been one of the many opportunities the Illini have to improve and shed off-season rust, the timing of the Illini Open could overlap with other premier events around the country. 

This weekend, select athletes are traveling to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for the Crimson Tide Four-in-the-Fall tournament. According to Dancer, the decisions to compete in certain tournaments depend on several factors, including progress in adjacent events, such as the Illini Open and athletes’ health. 

Although the team is poised to divide and conquer for the remainder of the fall, the Illini are focused on individual improvement, so the entire team can flourish in the spring. 

“We’re gonna give all those guys an opportunity, and whoever earns it is going to compete in the most opportunities come January, and that’s when the proof is in the pudding there, in early January,” Dancer said. “We’ll set ourselves up for the dual season from there, but right now, it’s really about creating the most amount of opportunities for all of our guys throughout the way.”

August through November is also a crucial time for athletes to build their professional resume by collecting ATP points and climbing in rank. Since Illinois has created a pipeline to the pros through its development-focus program under Dancer, making appearances in professional tournaments, including the Illini Open, is crucial for young tennis players. 

“We put a lot of time and effort, and the people supporting our program put a lot of effort into it,” Dancer said. “It’s basically for that, so we can continue to sell ourselves as the premier developmental school and the premier school in terms of the most opportunities at the next level.” 

While there are lots of opportunities to come this fall for the men’s tennis team, athletes such as Vuk Budic are still focusing on one match at a time. 

“My goal for the fall, I know it sounds a little basic, but is to win every match that I can,” Budic said. “I feel like having a really good fall puts you in a good position for the spring, so it’s a really good time to play against people that aren’t on our team and to prove yourself.”

@meghan_rest

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