Hiltzik falls in finals at national indoors

Even with a loss, Illinois sophomore Jared Hiltzik earned prestige in the realm of national tennis.

After drawing the No. 8 seed, Hiltzik won four straight matches at USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate before falling out of rhythm in the finals and losing in straight sets Sunday. He followed junior teammates Ross Guignon and Tim Kopinski, who fell in the doubles semifinal Saturday in three sets.

“I really felt like (Hiltzik) took one match at a time,” said associate head coach Marcos Asse, who traveled with the three Illini. “We never looked at the draws, we never looked at any of those things, and I think that’s part of why we were in the finals.”

Hiltzik outperformed his No. 17 national ranking in singles with a three-set victory over No. 6 in the nation Marcos Giron of UCLA, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2. Hiltzik continued his conquest with three consecutive straight-set victories to send him into the finals.

Once he got there, though, his nerves got the best of him in route to a 6-4, 7-5 loss to six-seeded Clay Thompson of UCLA.

“(Sunday), he was kind of big hitter who kept me off balance a lot,” Hiltzik said. “The other matches I felt like I had more rhythm.”

A day earlier, Guignon and Kopinski’s run as the fourth-seeded doubles pair came to an end in the semifinals after losing in three sets to top-seeded Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese of Tennessee, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

The Illini will have to put national indoors behind them as they head home to join the rest of their team in the 17th annual JSM Challenger of Champaign, which is part of the Challenger Tour and features a wide array of national and international competitors.

“I think the toughest part will be getting a good night’s rest,” Asse said. “I think when you have an opportunity coming off of something like this, if anything, it makes it easier to put it behind you.”

With the conclusion of the fall season’s premier tournament, Hiltzik can now add national indoor runner-up to his resume along with his national singles ranking. But as Illinois’ top singles player, he said he still has work to do.

“I’m playing in the Champaign Challenger, and after that it’s just a lot of body things, getting stronger, getting faster, and just keep improving my game,” he said.

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