Illini men’s tennis sends 4 to regionals

Illinois men’s tennis has changed since last year’s ITA Midwest Regionals.

When the Illini open regional play in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday, they won’t be playing with the same youth as last year. While the team lost its two seniors to graduation, its roster contains four sophomores and four juniors — each with at least a year of experience under his belt.

“You see maturity with the guys, and that’s exciting to see,” head coach Brad Dancer said. “Each guy is growing in his own way, whatever that may be.”

Last year, Tim Kopinski and Farris Gosea won the regional doubles championship as sophomore tandem and qualified for the ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships. Kopinski also made it to the singles semifinals alongside newcomer Jared Hiltzik before both exited with straight-set losses.

But this is a new season. Heading into regionals, Hiltzik has already qualified for national indoors. As a result, he will not travel in order to save one of his collegiate competition dates.

Meanwhile, junior Kopinski has a new doubles partner in junior Ross Guignon, with whom he has a 5-3 record this fall and saw much success last spring. For regionals, they are the top-seeded doubles pair, receiving a first-round bye, but winning isn’t everything to the tandem.

“We’re definitely looking to win, but we have a lot of small things that we’re trying to make sure we do right,” Kopinski said. “Just making sure we start executing those serves and turn patterns, just making sure we put a lot of balls on the court. I think that’s going to be a big plus for us, win or lose, if we just focus and make sure we do that.”

Junior Gosea and sophomore Alex Jesse join Kopinski and Guignon to complete the team’s regional squad. As a doubles tandem, Gosea and Jesse drew the No. 8 seed, pairing together for the first time this season.

Each of the four Illini will also compete in singles, three of them seeding in the top 16. At the No. 3 seed, Kopinski will face off against his first Big Ten singles opponent of the fall season in Jakhongir Jalalov of Wisconsin.

Kopinski isn’t the only Illini staring down Big Ten competition in the first round. The 10-seeded Gosea will be pitted against Michigan’s Justin’s Rossi, who only posts one win this season to Gosea’s seven.

As for 14-seeded Guignon and unseeded Jesse, both await opponents from the qualifying round. But even with the anonymity of two of the Illini competitors, Dancer is keeping his expectations high and his focus on the first round. 

“I’d like to see us win the singles and win the doubles, I think that’s feasible,” he said. “But we’re still six matches away, so no use talking about it now. These guys have tough first rounds.”

J.J. can be reached at [email protected] and @Wilsonable07.