Women’s tennis faces Notre Dame, come up short

Even after a 6-1 loss against top-ranked Notre Dame on Tuesday, the Illini women’s tennis team left the locker room with its head up.

A strong performance at doubles in the beginning of the match was enough to tell the Irish that the No. 40 Illini weren’t going to roll over.

“We were right there with a top-ranked team in the country,” Ilinois head coach Michelle Dasso said. “We had chances on every single (doubles) court. I asked them after the doubles match in the locker room if they felt like they had a chance to win, everyone said yes. So I think that’s very promising, that’s a huge confidence boost.”

A slow start in singles made a win difficult to achieve for the Orange and Blue (14-5, 5-1), as they were forced to battle from five first-set losses. Senior Shivani Dave won the lone first set for the Illini against Katie Potts, 6-4.

For the first time this season, Dasso made a change atop the Illini singles lineup, with redshirt sophomore Leigh Finnegan switching from the No. 1 singles spot to No. 2. But for Finnegan, ranked No. 111, dropping to the No. 2 spot might have made for the toughest match she has played all season.

Notre Dame’s Kristy Frilling, ranked No. 36, performed like a top-10 player as she quickly downed Finnegan in straight sets, 6-0, 6-1, to give the Irish a 2-0 lead.

“I think Finnegan’s player is probably the best college player I’ve ever seen play,” Dasso said. “Frilling was absolutely unreal and someone you’ve got to watch for the years to come. But Leigh just has to let that one go. That girl was on fire today. (Leigh can’t) let her affect her confidence. It’s hard sometimes, and we talked about it.”

However, the Illini refused to go down as they fought back in their second sets. Megan Fudge, taking over the No. 1 spot, and freshman Amy Allin boosted Illinois’ hopes as they each won their second sets, but freshman Chelcie Abajian’s 6-4 loss sealed the Illini’s fate.

Although the match was already decided, Fudge refused to let the match go down as a sweep.

In fact, Fudge said she felt like she was playing a mirror as she forced No. 35 Kelcy Tefft to play at Fudge’s momentum and pulled out the win in a third-set tiebreaker.

“I honestly was playing myself, maybe not the feistiness but definitely the game style and tactics,” Fudge said. “It was fun, I enjoy that kind of tennis. I enjoyed it more than my opponent, and overall, I think it was my fitness that came through.”

Fudge’s win improves the junior to an impressive 17-2 singles record.

Although the Illini didn’t pull away with a victory, they did come out with a lot of confidence as they prepare to take on two Big Ten foes this weekend.