Men’s tennis keeps Big Ten mark intact

Marc+Spicijaric+chases+a+ball+against+Wisconsin+at+the+Atkins+Tennis+Center%2C+Sunday.+Spicijaric+won+both+his+doubles+and+singles+matches.+ME+Online%0A

Marc Spicijaric chases a ball against Wisconsin at the Atkins Tennis Center, Sunday. Spicijaric won both his doubles and singles matches. ME Online

By Jim Shay

On a day when emotions ran high on both sides of the net, the smile on junior Marc Spicijaric’s face after his victory-clinching ace said it all for the men’s tennis team.

Playing their first outdoor match of the spring under sunny skies, the Illini grinded out a hard-fought 5-2 victory Sunday afternoon over the visiting Badgers.

Illinois improved its Big Ten record to a perfect 3-0 after the win over Wisconsin.

A strong overall performance in doubles combined with some familiar late-match singles heroics led to the Illini win.

For head coach Brad Dancer, there was very little not to like about the team’s performance.

“There was no messing around in the doubles today, which is excellent,” Dancer said. “The guys that went out and took care of business for us got us this victory. All of our guys have little kinks that they’re working out in their games and we’re constantly improving as the season progresses. I’m proud of our guys for battling through today.”

The tandem of senior GD Jones and sophomore Marc Spicijaric started off a convincing trio of Illini doubles victories with an 8-2 win at the number two spot, while junior Brandon Davis and freshman Jordan Knue clinched a gritty 8-5 win over Wisconsin’s Moritz Baumann and Felipe Bellido.

The 34th-ranked duo of juniors Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe followed suit with an 8-2 triumph in No. 1 doubles, giving the Illini an early advantage that would soon be challenged by an inspired singles showing by Wisconsin.

Though Anderson quickly added a No. 1 singles victory after his opponent, Nolan Polley, was forced to retire early with flu-like symptoms, and Jones was able to engineer a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Lachezar Kasarov, the Badgers proved nothing less than pesky for the Illini.

Rowe, ranked No. 8 nationally in singles, dropped a frustrating match to Jeremy Sonkin 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, while Knue had problems of his own, bowing out at the number six spot with a 6-3, 6-1 loss to Bellido.

With the Illini clinging to a 3-2 advantage as the last two matches entered a decisive third set, the table was set for Spicijaric to deliver yet another clinching performance.

As a crowded gallery looked on, the sophomore sealed an Illini win in authoritative fashion by acing his final serve in a 7-6 (9-7), 2-6, 6-2 victory over Baumann.

For Spicijaric, the match couldn’t have ended any better.

“It’s always great when it comes down to me being one of the last matches playing,” Spicijaric said. “I enjoy that feeling and that pressure that’s being put on me to win the match for the team. Obviously, it could go both ways because if I lose I’ll feel terrible, but I definitely like being put in that position.”

Davis’ 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 victory minutes later was icing on the cake for the Illini, who improved to 10-3 on the season.

For Rowe, the match was somewhat bittersweet.

“I wasn’t able to play my best today and the other guy came out and played some pretty good tennis,” Rowe said. “Overall, I’m happy with our team’s effort today. We got the job done in doubles and I’m looking forward to coming out and getting some better matches under our belts.”

The Illini return to action on March 20th when they travel to Baton Rouge, La., to take on LSU.