Tables turned as Illinois heads to Virginia in rematch of ’06

By Eric Chima

The last time Illinois and Virginia met on a tennis court, in January 2006, the Cavaliers carried a No. 1 ranking into Atkins Tennis Center.

They left with their heads hanging, the victims of a decisive 5-2 Illinois win.

A year later, the roles are reversed, as the No. 5 Illini find themselves heading to No. 8 Virginia Sunday with a slim edge in the polls – and Virginia will have revenge on their minds.

“(Virginia coach Brian Boland) and I barb each other all the time,” head coach Brad Dancer said. “He thinks they owe us some payback, and I think we owe them another defeat.”

Virginia graduated three of their top players from last year’s team, but still feature the No. 8 and No. 10 players in the country in Somdev Devvarman and Treat Huey. That pair will match up against Illinois’ duo of Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe, ranked No. 23 and No. 11, respectively.

But for all the firepower at the top of the lineups, Dancer said the bottom half of the Cavaliers’ lineup could be the most interesting. They feature a host of talented young players that could test the Illini, who struggled in losing the bottom three singles matches in their win over Pepperdine on Friday. And while Virginia’s youth is largely untested in dual-match play, Dancer said he knew how good they could be – because he followed many of them himself.

“We recruit virtually the same athletes, and we kind of make fun of each other for that,” Dancer said. “We’re always at the tournaments longest and latest.”

The match will be the second of the weekend for the Illini, who face No. 69 Ball State on Friday. The Illini have won 10 straight matches against the Cardinals, but lost the doubles point two years ago. Dancer refuses to look ahead to the Virginia match.

“(Ball State coach) Bill Richards is one of the best coaches in the country, and they’re always really good at doubles,” Dancer said. “(He’s) a great tactician in terms of doubles, and he keeps it real simple for his guys, and they respond really well to that. They always play us really well.”

But despite the Cardinals’ toughness, the Illini should be heavy favorites coming into the match.

It’s Virginia that should provide a real test for the team. And while the Cavaliers may come out to avenge last year’s loss, Anderson said the Illini will be ready.

“Whatever they want to do, they can go ahead and do it,” Anderson said. “I hope they’re ready, because we’re definitely going to bring all our games.”