Illini men’s tennis sends two to Alabama’s Four-In-The-Fall

Illinois’ Brian Page returns the ball against No. 8 Texas at Atkins Tennis Center on Feb. 9. Page is one of two Illini attending the Crimson Tide Four-in-the-Fall this weekend.

By Christopher Kennedy

Two Illini men’s tennis players are heading to Tuscaloosa, Ala., this weekend with two very different purposes for the Crimson Tide Four-In-The-Fall. Junior Brian Page is working on getting back to 100 percent after his sophomore season ended early due to injury and freshman Toshiki Matsuya is looking to improve in his second tournament with the Illini. 

Page broke his wrist last spring and still played in matches one-handed for the Illini. However, a stress reaction in his foot put Page out of commission for the end of the season. This weekend marks his first match action with the Illini since April. He spent the summer playing tournaments and working to fully recover. The wrist injury has still limited Page and it makes hitting the backhand — Page’s best shot — difficult. Head coach Brad Dancer said Page will be a stronger player after overcoming his injuries. 

“When you play without one of your weapons, you develop other weapons,” Dancer said. “Hopefully he serves better, transition is a little better, forehand is a little better, so all the things that can be other strengths for him … it’s an important time for him to develop those.”

Over the summer, he said he felt he was still playing one-handed. Page agrees that the injury has forced him to improve in other facets of his game. 

On his goals this weekend, Page said: “Get some wins, get some match confidence, basically work on things I’ve been working on in practice. I’m hoping to get a lot of matches the rest of the fall and be ready for the season.”

A week after matching up with several teams that finished the spring with top rankings, the Illini will face more teams that ranked in the top 50 at the end of last year, including Dartmouth, Florida State, Notre Dame and host Alabama. The Fighting Irish also competed at the OFCC/Fighting Illini Invite last weekend. 

Matsuya made his Illini debut last weekend at the Invite with a 2-2 record. Dancer said that Matsuya needs to put pressure on his opponent and control the court more than last week. 

“That’s the essence of tennis, how to make the other guy play bad,” Dancer said. “Toshiki tends to worry about himself a lot more than the other guy, and he needs to worry about how to make the other guy play bad.”

One of the biggest differences in college tennis is that coaches are on the court to communicate with players. Dancer said he thinks that Matsuya can really benefit from having a coach on court. Now, after seeing Matsuya play some matches with Illinois, he will try to have more of a dialogue with him during matches.

While NCAA tennis is an adjustment for Matsuya with on-court coaches and older and stronger players, he said that he plays better when he tries to take balls early and control the pace of points. He’ll try to do that this weekend.  

“I just want to play my game … go out and try to dictate a lot of points,” Matsuya said. “I just want to try to impose my game on my opponents and use my speed to my advantage.”

Chris Kennedy can be reached at [email protected]