No. 40 Illini women’s tennis returns home for first time in a month

The Illinois women’s tennis team couldn’t be happier to be back from the Aloha State.

The No. 40 Illini women’s tennis team is heading back to its home court for the Big Ten season after splitting two matches in Hawaii. Illinois is slated to play No. 65 Minnesota on Saturday and No. 69 Iowa on Sunday.

“We haven’t been home in so long,” junior Megan Fudge said. “Everyone’s been asking ‘Oh, when do you guys play home again?’ I think it’s really exciting, especially with the Big Ten season.”

The Illini (12-4, 3-1 Big Ten) have played five of their last six matches on the road. Their last home match was a 5-2 victory against Indiana on March 7.

But the Orange and Blue aren’t exactly dying to return to familiar courts because they’re homesick. Instead, junior Megan Fudge described home-court advantage as geared more towards their loyal Illini fans, even if it means ditching a chance to step onto sunny courts in Florida as they did over spring break.

“We’re ready for (the outdoors),” Fudge said. “We competed well (in Hawaii and Florida), and we know what we should do out there. But obviously for the atmosphere it would be nicer inside for the fans and everything. They would get more encouraged to watch inside than outside.”

In fact, Illinois is fifth in attendance in the ITA, averaging about 125 fans per home contest.

The Illini are most concerned with their performance at doubles play for this weekend.

“The doubles point is going to be really critical,” Illinois head coach Michelle Dasso said. “Minnesota is very strong in doubles … I can’t stress the doubles point enough. They all know that it’s really difficult to win all four singles matches.

“It just makes life easier and the coach much happier when they win the doubles point,” Dasso added.

Minnesota (9-7, 2-3) boasts a ranked duo of No. 52 Karlina Chiarelli and Alessandra Ferrazzi, who remain undefeated in doubles at 6-0.

In their two matches last weekend, the Illini split the doubles point. A loss in doubles against then-No. 36 Washington last Friday proved crucial in Illinois’ tight 4-3 loss and was an alarm of another calling.

“We learned never to lose,” Dasso joked, but with a serious tone.

The loss to Washington was the Illini’s first loss to a lower-ranked team in the dual season.

“That was a big shock to us because normally we’re the underdogs,” Fudge said. “We learned to respect every opponent whether… We have to think they’re as good as anyone else.”

Although Illinois defeated Minnesota and Iowa last season, 4-3 and 6-1, respectively, and don’t play as the underdogs this weekend, the pressure is still there.

“They’re really fired up to beat us, and we have to be really fired up to keep our spot,” sophomore Marisa Lambropoulos said. “Now we have to chip away to get higher and higher.”