Illini fall to Wildcats, Tar Heels

Illinois%27+Aleks+Kovacevic+gets+ready+to+return+the+ball+during+the+match+against+Duke+at+Atkins+Tennis+Center+on+Feb.+1.+The+Illini+won+6-1.
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Illini fall to Wildcats, Tar Heels

Illinois' Aleks Kovacevic gets ready to return the ball during the match against Duke at Atkins Tennis Center on Feb. 1. The Illini won 6-1.

Illinois' Aleks Kovacevic gets ready to return the ball during the match against Duke at Atkins Tennis Center on Feb. 1. The Illini won 6-1.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois' Aleks Kovacevic gets ready to return the ball during the match against Duke at Atkins Tennis Center on Feb. 1. The Illini won 6-1.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois' Aleks Kovacevic gets ready to return the ball during the match against Duke at Atkins Tennis Center on Feb. 1. The Illini won 6-1.

By Meghan Rest, Assistant sports editor

The No. 14 Illinois men’s tennis team clinched its third-straight dual victory of the spring Friday night, but suffered its first loss of the season Saturday at the Atkins Tennis Center.

Illinois was on fire against Kentucky (4-3), and crushed the Wildcats 4-1 Friday night. However, the team’s weekend home stint was bookended by a close 4-3 loss to No. 8 North Carolina (5-1).

On Friday, the Illini opened the meet with a match point in the doubles competition thanks to performances by juniors Vuk Budic and Zeke Clark. The duo swept the Wildcats’ Fabian Penzkofer and Kevin Huempfner 6-0. Junior Aleks Kovacevic and freshman Keenan Mayo continued their three-match win streak and secured Illinois’ first match point after defeating Kento Yamada and Ryo Matsumura 7-5.

The Illini entered singles competition with a 1-0 lead over the Wildcats.

Sophomore Caleb Chakravarthi then defeated Theo McDonald, 6-1, 7-5, and earned Illinois’ first singles point. Mayo and Yamada reunited on the singles court, but after a closely-fought battle, Yamada bested Mayo 6-4, 6-4.

At that point, Kentucky trailed the Illini 2-1.

But Illinois junior Noe Khlif toppled Kentucky’s Kevin Huempfner, 7-5, 6-4 to help reignite the Illini’s momentum, boosting Illinois’ lead to 3-1.

No. 30-ranked Clark defended Illinois’ lead in an up-down battle against Cesar Bourgois. After three sets, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, Clark secured Illinois’ 4-1 victory over Kentucky.

Saturday, Illinois broke even against North Carolina in singles competition. Kovacevic defeated William Blumberg, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, while Mayo made quick work of Brian Cernoch, 6-4, 6-2, and Chakravarthi defeated Simon Soendergaard, 6-3, 6-3. However, North Carolina’s Josh Peck, Benjamin Sigouin and Blaine Boyden upset opponents Clark, Brown and Siphosothando Montsi respectively.

The Tar Heels stayed dominant through doubles play as well. The team of Boyden and Blumberg toppled Mayo and Kovacevic 6-2, while Mac Kiger and Ladd Harrison defeated the junior duo of Budic and Clark. Brown and Chakravarthi were tied 4-4 against Cernoch and Sigouin when the match was stopped.

Illinois now moves to 3-1 on the season and is hanging onto a top-20 spot in ITA rankings.

The Illini moved up one spot this week to No. 14 after a victory over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. A slew of individual players are also dominant in the top-30 singles rankings. Sophomore Alex Brown leads Illinois with a No. 23-ranking, while Kovacevic is right behind him in the No. 24-spot and Clark sits at No. 30.

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