Illinois earns spots in national rankings ahead of matches against Michigan, Michigan State

Junior+Alex+Brown+celebrates+after+a+play+against+Penn+State+on+Feb.+19.+Multiple+players+on+the+men%E2%80%99s+tennis+team+received+honorable+rankings+from+the+Intercollegiate+Tennis+Association+ahead+of+their+matches+against+Michigan+and+Michigan+State+this+weekend.

Photo Courtesy of David Craan / Illinois Athletics

Junior Alex Brown celebrates after a play against Penn State on Feb. 19. Multiple players on the men’s tennis team received honorable rankings from the Intercollegiate Tennis Association ahead of their matches against Michigan and Michigan State this weekend.

By Enji Erdenekhuyag, Staff Writer

Fresh off a road win against Purdue, the Illinois men’s tennis team will return to Atkins Tennis Center to face Michigan at 3 p.m. Friday and Michigan State at 1 p.m. Sunday.

The last time the Illini played, and won, against the Wolverines and the Spartans was in April 2019. Two years later, Illinois is at a different spot. The team has found a steady rhythm of play after a hectic season cut short, and they’re trying to improve their 10-2 record.

“So much of tennis is being in our physical space and being in the right mental space,” head coach Brad Dancer said. “So, we’ll continue to work on our fitness, continue to work on our conditioning and from there, we’ll have tactical adjustments each match day.”

This Wednesday, the Intercollegiate Tennis Association released its first singles and doubles rankings out of 125 for the season. Athletes from Illinois and both its upcoming opponents appeared on the list.

Of the three, Illinois garnered the most mentions on the rankings, as it tallied in at six: four in singles and two in doubles. Aleks Kovacevic claimed the top spot for the team at No. 27, Zeke Clark followed right after at No. 28, Siphosothando Montsi placed at No. 54 and Alex Brown stood at No. 119. As for duos, Clark and Brown powered together at No. 27, while Montsi and Kweisi Kenyatte achieved a spot at No. 49.

No. 25 Michigan also saw four singles players ranked, with one doubles pair sitting at the 23rd spot. Holding its 8-1 record, Michigan is having an arguably hot season. On Mar. 14, the Wolverines were able to triumph over one of the best teams in the Big Ten. In a close 4-3 match, Michigan upended the then-no. 8 Ohio State, a feat Illinois could not accomplish when the two went head-to-head Feb. 21, as they lost 4-1. The Wolverines will travel to Urbana coming off of their eighth consecutive win, while the Illini will look to end that trend and extend their own six-match streak.

Michigan State’s double act of Nick Williams and Kazuki Matsuno placed at No. 38. Despite the no-show of Spartan singles competitors in the ITA’s power rankings, the Big Ten presented Williams with the Men’s Tennis Athlete of the Week accolade Tuesday after he went undefeated last weekend.

The Illini — though they appear to be playing at their prime — are constantly looking to improve their game, and they see this weekend’s matches as another opportunity to do just that.

“We just gotta keep growing,” Dancer said. “I think we’ve got some belief in ourselves in terms of some of the things we’re doing, and we just gotta … keep pushing ourselves physically. We gotta keep pushing ourselves mentally, and we gotta keep growing as a team, and if we do that, I think we’re gonna be a great team.”