Men’s tennis team travels to Louisiana

 

 

By Eric Chima

The No. 6 Illinois men’s tennis team will embark on their annual spring break trip this weekend with yet another player on the mend and No. 13 LSU looming ahead.

Ruben Gonzales, the team’s third singles player, became the third Illini to miss significant time this year, sitting out the team’s last two matches with an undisclosed injury. Head coach Brad Dancer said Gonzales would be day-to-day but is likely to miss the match with LSU on Tuesday. The Illini have pulled out a pair of relatively easy wins without him last weekend, but the Tigers will offer another level of competition. They have notched three wins over top-30 teams, took two matches from No. 3 Ohio State and have two doubles teams ranked in the top 10 in the country.

“They’re going to be tough,” assistant coach Kent Kinnear said. “We don’t know a lot about the individual players, but we know they’ve had some tough wins this year. They get great crowds and they’re loud. (Our guys) have been under a lot of adversity lately and we’ve talked about that. This is another test for them and they’ll be fine.”

Freshman walk-on Jordan Knue stepped in for Gonzales just a few weeks after saying he did not expect to play at all this season. Knue has only been on the team since January, when Dancer decided to add some depth to the squad. Now, he is the last man available, leaving an empty bench and no recourse should another injury occur.

But Knue filled in admirably for Gonzales, pairing with Brandon Davis for a doubles win in his first dual match as an Illini. He is now 2-0 with Davis in singles, but lost a pair of tough singles matches against Purdue and Wisconsin.

“I was pretty nervous about it, I’m not going to lie,” Knue said. “I was more pleased with the doubles, the singles needs some work. In the singles against Purdue, I was really tight. That was the most tight I’ve ever been in a match.”

With Knue stepping in at sixth singles, the team’s fourth through sixth players have had to move up a spot. Davis, the former sixth singles player, has been put in the unique position of playing up a spot while adjusting to a new doubles partner in Knue.

“Any time somebody goes out of the lineup, there’s always a lot of pressure for everybody,” Davis said. “It’s always fun playing with Jordan. He’s got a pretty good serve, so when it’s on and I’m cleaning up at the net, that’s when we get clicking.”

In previous years the Illini went to California and Florida.

“It’s not as glamorous as those two states, but I’ve driven through Baton Rouge, and it’s a pretty cool town,” Davis said. “It should be good to get into steady warm weather for the week. We’re just excited to get out there and play LSU, they’re a good team and it should be fun.”