Illini men’s tennis ends hectic weekend with a loss


Illinois Tim Kopinski attempts to return the ball during the meet against Pepperdine, at Atkins Tennis Center, on Mar. 14, 2014. The Illini won 5-0.

By Brett Lerner

The Illinois men’s tennis team finished its busiest weekend of the season with a 2-1 record. The weekend put the Illini up against their toughest competition, with all three of their opponents being ranked in the top-50. Illinois also had to travel to California after its Friday night match to play Sunday morning. 

The Illini used a different format in all three of their matches this weekend, which took much less time. The normal format had Illinois play three doubles matches, best two out of three earning a single point. Then, six singles matches are played, each being worth one point. The new format still has a total of seven possible points, but the order in which the matches are played is flipped. 

In the Illini’s matches this weekend, the six singles matches were played first, and the only way doubles would even occur was if the two teams split the singles portion.

“I’m not a huge fan of (the new format), I like the format we used earlier in the season better,” head coach Brad Dancer said. 

The new format resulted in the Illini not playing any doubles matches all weekend, as they took down USF 4-1, shut out Pepperdine 5-0 and fell to Baylor 4-0. The 2-1 record on the weekend brought the Illini to an 11-5 record overall. 

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The Illini started off the weekend by winning both of their home matches Friday, beating USF early in the day and dominating Pepperdine to finish the day. The Pepperdine match was part of the ESPN College Matchday series, which Illinois was chosen to host at the beginning of the season. The match was televised on ESPN3, and the stands at Atkins Tennis Center were packed with fans, but associate head coach Marcos Asse didn’t think the home atmosphere changed much.

“I certainly think our players have the advantage because we have an atmosphere like this on a pretty regular basis,” Asse said. 

The team left its home facilities about 20 minutes after the match to head to fly to California, where they faced Baylor on Sunday morning. 

The Baylor match was Illinois’ first loss since it fell to Texas A&M in mid-February. The No. 12 Bears was also the toughest team the Illini have faced since the A&M match. Baylor became even tougher competition with the emphasis on singles, with five players currently ranked in the nation’s top 105 singles rankings. The match was played as a part of the inaugural Oracle Collegiate Tennis Challenge, which was played in cohesion with the BNP Paribas Open, a professional men’s tournament which finished Sunday.

Illinois also had to stick with its same six-man lineup due to injuries with Jared Hiltzik and Brian Page. The inability to make any lineup changes might have had more of an effect than usual this weekend, playing three matches in 48 hours in addition to travel. Prior to Friday’s matches, Hiltzik said he felt good about playing on the weekend but didn’t end up appearing in the Illini lineup for any of the three matches. Dancer said even though Hiltzik didn’t play, there were no setbacks leading up to the matches.

“We feel good about his progress, and we’re excited to get him back,” Dancer said. 

Brett can be reached at [email protected] and @blerner10.