Men’s tennis looks to make statement in season opening tournament

The Illinois men’s tennis team will be looking to make a statement in its season opener against a slew of perennial national powers in the OFCC Invitational in Olympia Fields, Ill., on Friday.

“This is a good test for us to open up this season,” sophomore Jared Hiltzik said. “It’s definitely a tougher field than last season. We have to play very strong tennis to start out the year, and we’ve prepared well for it.”

The tournament will include the defending national champions Virginia — the team who eliminated juniors Ross Guignon and Tim Kopinski in last season’s doubles tournament — and other top-ranked teams such as Kentucky and Notre Dame.

“I think there’s definitely a little bit of pressure for us to do well this weekend and prove that we will be able to compete with some of the top teams in the country,” Kopinski said. “We’re still going to look at this as just another match, any good stepping stone for us to get ready for the spring season.”

The Illini do not yet know which team they will play in the tournament, as the matchups have yet to be announced. For this specific tournament, the head coaches of each team, including head coach Brad Dancer, will decide upon the matchups prior to the start of the tournament.

No one on the team has knowledge of who they will face as of Wednesday afternoon, and the players are determined not to let it affect them.

“I always approach every match with a consistent mindset, so I don’t think it really matters too much who I’m matched up against,” Hiltzik said. “I just play my game and have confidence that will be good enough to let me have success in every match.”

Though the Illini have aspirations to make a statement at this weekend’s season-opening tournament, the team is not looking to bring an overaggressive approach to the weekend.

“I think my main focus and the focus from some of the other guys is just to remain calm and relaxed on the court,” Kopinski said. “We know we put in the work this week, so there’s no reason for any of us to be too hyped up out there.”

The Illini will be at a disadvantage at this weekend’s competition without Guignon, who will not compete because of inflammation in his knees brought on by issues with chronic knee injuries over the last two seasons. Dancer said his decision to sit him for the weekend was a precautionary measure and still expects his team to be tough even without Guignon this weekend.

“I’ve really been preaching to all the guys about how we need to show a lot more mental toughness as a team this season,” Dancer said. “This weekend at Olympia Fields is a perfect place to show that. I just want to see our team keep its composure, regardless of the outcomes of each match.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @danescalona77.