Women’s tennis duo provides team with doubles stability

It all started in fall 2010, when sophomore Rachael White and freshman Allison Falkin first competed together in a doubles match, advancing to the semi-finals of the Duke Invitational.

From there, the duo reached the finals of the USTA/ITA Midwest Regional Championships. They were defeated 9-7 by current No. 11 Northwestern duo Linda Abu Mushrefova and Nida Hamilton — the same team they lost to on Sunday in a 9-7 tiebreaker — to take second in the tournament.

Illinois head coach Michelle Dasso said she knew they would make a good tandem since that event.

“Back in the fall at the biggest tournament of the fall at regionals and they obviously had a great run,” Dasso said. “We were still experimenting with teams but getting to the finals with a freshman, first time playing together was pretty impressive.”

The duo has accumulated a 15-10 overall record, competed in every match of the spring season except three, and is ranked No. 25 in the country.

“I feel very comfortable with Al, I think we work very well together,” White said after Friday’s 8-6 doubles victory against Iowa. “She sets me up a lot and she’s very solid from the baseline and I prefer to be at the net, so I think we’re a good combination together and we get along very well so we click on the court.”

The Illini have worked hard in doubles this past season, a point of emphasis for Dasso, who said the point is crucial against top Big Ten opponents.

Doubles makes collegiate tennis unique because it acts as a swing vote. Each of the six singles match count as one point, but the three doubles matches combined count as just one, making for a total of seven points per match. Because of this, the doubles point can be a match’s deciding factor.

Illinois has won the doubles point in 10 of its 17 matches so far this season, and four of those doubles wins have come in the last five matches. The Illini have only won one match in which they lost the doubles point.

White and Falkin have won seven doubles matches this season at the No. 1 doubles spot and are 3-2 in the Big Ten. Dasso said she has no plans to break up the doubles tandem, given how they have been playing.

“For the most part they have been steady,” Dasso said. “Our freshman there has impeccable timing, she has very good timing and I think Rachael White has been closing so much better than she has in the past, and she has a big serve.”

Illinois has focused on the doubles point in practice because of its impact on the overall match. Dasso said they mostly focus on the three key things for doubles success: serving, returns and the first volley.

White and Falkin’s performance has not gone unnoticed by their teammates. Senior Marisa Lambropoulos, who has been out with a wrist injury, has been able to watch the ranked duo from the sidelines.

“Al and Rach are just a tremendously good doubles team,” Lambropoulos said. “I mean they work really well together, they both have really good serves and able to finish off points quickly.”

Lambropoulos said White and Falkin have shown an understanding of each other, like where they like to serve or where their sweet spots are when hitting a return. But for the Illini duo, Lambropoulos said it showed from the very beginning.

“With a lot of doubles teams, over time you start to learn your partner more, but I actually got to see them play in the fall … they even seemed to go well together then,” Lambropolous said.

Dasso also said White and Falkin just have a good time together when they play.

“They complement each other very well,” Dasso said. “They have fun together, they enjoy playing with each other.”