Men’s tennis rallies to defeat Duke

By Eric Chima

Marc Spicjaric stuck a volley down the line, tossed his hands in the air and let his racket clatter to the court. Ten minutes later and five courts down, Brandon Davis watched a shot sail long, turned and yelled, pumping his fists to the crowd. And on the next court, GD Jones crushed a return winner, dropped his racket and gave way to the rush of men’s tennis teammates that swarmed him on the Atkins Tennis Center court.

Their reactions typified their matches – Spicijaric cool, Davis fired up by the crowd, Jones always on the verge of going under – as all three battled back from deep holes to win three-setters and romp eighth-ranked Duke 6-1 Friday night.

“That’s just college tennis,” Illini coach Brad Dancer said. “It’s incredible to be part of something like that.”

For a time, it looked like Duke was going to pull out a 4-3 win. The Illini took the first three points of the night behind some great doubles play and businesslike performances from Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe, but lost the other four first sets and fell into deep second-set holes.

Ruben Gonzales fell at second singles to make the score 3-1, and things looked grim. On court five, Spicijaric was staring at a 5-2 second-set deficit. Davis fell behind two breaks at sixth singles and had to call a trainer for a stomach injury. And Jones, clearly out of sync, had already been broken four times at the fourth spot.

That was when the Illini’s lone sophomore started his run. Spicijaric turned away five match points and finally broke Duke’s David Goulet for the first time all match. He broke him again minutes later, and all of a sudden his match was level at a set apiece.

“This was Marc Spicijaric’s match tonight,” Dancer said. “He clinched the match for us but he was also the catalyst that changed things around for us.”

Then Davis started attacking his opponent’s forehand and making his way to the net, storming back to force a second-set tiebreak. Meanwhile, Jones was finding his groove, pushing Duke’s Ned Samuelson around the court with a variety of heavy groundstrokes. Within minutes, both took their second sets and brought the Net Nuts erupting to their feet.

“I was just looking around and we had lost 4 of six first sets, and you know that it’s possibly coming down to you,” Davis said. “If you don’t keep battling and pull it out, you’re going to take a loss to Duke, which is never fun.”

All three third sets were close, but with the momentum in hand, the rest of the match seemed almost a race to the finish. Spicijaric was the first to complete his comeback and clinch the match for the Illini, breaking Goulet late in the third for a 6-7, 7-5, 7-5 win. Davis followed with an array of lunging volleys for a 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 win. The crowd hit its peak moments later when Jones got just enough of a fully-extended diving volley to set up his own 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 win.

Spicijaric couldn’t see what his teammates were doing on the opposite side of the tennis center, but credited the Net Nuts for building the momentum throughout the building.

“The crowd really helped me,” Spicijaric said. “The more roars I heard, the more pumped up I got.”