Illinois women’s tennis starts conference season 0-2

By Thomas Donley

The Illinois women’s tennis team dropped its first two matches of the Big Ten season this weekend, suffering a sweep at home at the hands of No. 8 Northwestern and losing 5-2 at Purdue.

Saturday, Northwestern (8-3, 3-0 Big Ten) proved why it is ranked in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s top 10 with its rout of Illinois (6-6, 0-2). Misia Kedzierski and Louise Kwong managed to salvage one doubles set, but the Wildcats took the doubles point and never looked back. Illinois failed to win a single set in any of its six singles matches. Kwong came the closest of all Illini to winning a set Saturday when she took Manon Peri to a 12th game but fell 7-5.

The win was the third in a row for Northwestern and also marked the second time this spring that Illinois has been swept. No. 14 Alabama blanked the Illini in the first round of the Blue Gray National Tennis Classic on Feb. 21. Illinois is now 1-3 on the season against top-25 teams.

Head coach Michelle Dasso called her team’s effort “uninspired” and said leadership needed to improve after the loss to Northwestern.

The match was Illinois’ first at home in over a month. The last time the Illini played at Atkins Tennis Center was a win over TCU on Feb. 2.

The Illini used their road trip immediately after Saturday’s match to regroup from the loss.

“I think we were trying to stay positive,” freshman Alexis Casati said. “Just kind of moving on a little bit.”

On Sunday, Illinois faced Purdue in its first road match of the Big Ten season. The Illini performed better than they did against Northwestern but could not pull out the victory. The Boilermakers (5-4, 1-1) swept the doubles sets, putting Illinois in a hole it could not escape. Needing to win four singles matches, the Illini managed to take only two as Casati made short work of Nicole Robinson, winning 6-2, 6-4, and fellow freshman Jerricka Boone battled back to defeat reigning Big Ten Athlete of the Week Andjela Djokovic, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

“It’s always good for the freshmen to get their first Big Ten wins under their belts,” assistant coach Ric Mortera said. “And I thought Louise Kwong played some really good tennis against a quality opponent. Obviously, she would’ve liked to get that one, but she can build off of it.”

Kwong fought back from being swept in the first set against Tess Bernard-Feigenbaum to win the second set, 6-1, but lost the deciding set, 4-6. 

Misia Kedzierski jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first set over Krisztina Kapitany but dropped 13 of the next 14 games and lost in straight sets.

Purdue entered Sunday’s match having lost three of its last four matches, including a narrow loss to Northwestern in the Boilermakers’ Big Ten opener.

The Illini will have two weeks off before playing Southern Illinois at home on March 21. Rescheduled from March 2, the match will be the first of four straight home matches for Illinois.

Illinois unveiled Melissa Kopinski’s All-America banner at Atkins Tennis Center before Saturday’s match. Kopinski earned All-America honors in doubles as a sophomore last year along with partner Rachael White. Kopinksi and White were the Illini’s first All-America honorees in 20 years.

“This is not how we had hoped to start our Big Ten season,” Dasso said. “But there’s certainly quite a few matches left. We need to work harder and go back and reevaluate and reinvent ourselves for the second part of our season.”

Thomas can be reached at [email protected]