Three Illini compete in men’s tennis national indoors

The pressure of the national spotlight is back on Illinois men’s tennis.

After using fall tournaments to earn qualification, three Illini will competed for national tennis titles at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships in Flushing, N.Y. 

Sophomore Jared Hiltzik drew the No. 8 seed and will face junior Marcos Giron of UCLA, a matchup that slightly resembles Hiltzik’s first round in the NCAA tournament against a UCLA opponent last spring. Meanwhile, juniors Ross Guignon and Tim Kopinski drew the No. 4 seed, earning the pair a first-round bye. 

But while the three Illini each earned the right to compete, associate head coach Marcos Asse said it doesn’t matter much what they have accomplished in weeks past. It matters what they can do this week.

“There may be people on paper who will tell you, ‘oh, the winner was the best player in the tournament,’” Asse said. “But the bottom line is the person who wins it was the person playing the best this week.”

Of the three, Kopinski is the only who competed at national indoors last season, where he made a first round exit with partner junior Farris Gosea. This season, however, has him feeling more comfortable with Guignon as his partner, after playing as a duo through most of the spring season. 

“We’re pretty good at managing and taking our time if things aren’t going that well,” Kopinski said. “We think a lot more on the court, in a good way, though, trying to figure our opponents and what we’re doing.”

As comfortable as they are together, neither is letting their high seeding go to their heads, nor are they looking ahead to the competition.

“I’m trying not to have too many expectations, that way I’m not surprised by anything that is too high or too low in level of expectations,” Guignon said. “I’m just trying to go in to do my thing and do what I do best.”

After last year’s competition, head coach Brad Dancer said he felt Kopinski and Gosea didn’t make the best on-court choices, which Asse said isn’t an issue for Guignon and Kopinski. Still, the duo isn’t without weakness.

“We do a lot of good things and we know it, and sometimes a little doubt will creep in and we don’t go get the ball and put the ball on our opponents,” Guignon said. “That’s the thing we can’t let happen this weekend. If we win or lose, we just have to go out and put our game on our opponents.”

As for Hiltzik, he has his own standards to which he holds himself as Illinois’ top singles player last season. After qualifying early, he has dedicated all of his time to preparing for national indoors.

“This last week was a very productive week, and Brad and I got on the same page for what I need to work on,” Hiltzik said. “I think that it’s just another match for me to grow my tennis game and go forward with that.”

Success at national indoors could mean big things for the three Illini as tennis players, both individually and as a duo, depending on how each side performs. No matter how prestigious the fall competition, though, all three sing the same mantra.

“I think everything kind of leads up to the future, and this is another stepping stone to the spring season,” Hiltzik said.

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