Two Illini compete in Alabama’s Four-in-the-Fall

By Christopher Kennedy

The Illini went to Tuscaloosa, Ala., with different missions for the Crimson Tide Four-In-The-Fall. They left with mixed results. Freshman Toshiki Matsuya finished 2-2 on the weekend and took a big step after his opening round loss. Brian Page was back for the Illini for the first time since an injury last April and went 1-3. 

Matsuya was “abysmal” in his first match of the tournament, according to head coach Brad Dancer. He struggled against Princeton’s Josh Yablon, losing 2-6, 5-7. Dancer said Matsuya was all over the place in his first match and didn’t have any game plan. He compared it to a basketball team going down the court and launching 3-pointers every possession.  

But after that first match, and a conversation with Dancer, something clicked for Matsuya.

“My first match I didn’t really have purpose on the court, not much clarity on what I needed to do,” Matsuya said. “After my first match, I talked to Brad for a while and went over exactly what kind of player I need to be, what I need to do on the court to be successful.”

Matsuya won his next two matches against Stuart Kenyon of Alabama and Fares Kilani of Samford. Dancer coached Matsuya more on the court after that first match and made an effort to talk to him between points. As the tournament went on, Matsuya dictated more points and controlled the court more aggressively.

Matusya lost his final match Sunday morning to Rice’s Srikar Alla. Dancer said Matusya wasn’t quite prepared when Alla jumped out to a quick lead. Overall though, Dancer said the weekend was a step in the right direction for Matsuya, but he still has lots to do to improve.

“He’s got a long, long way to go. He doesn’t trust his shot, he doesn’t trust his ability to do certain things,” Dancer said. “He’s just got to become a more confident, trusting player, but he definitely gained a little bit this weekend and just learned a little bit more about himself. That was a positive step for him.”

For Page, it’s all about getting back into match action. While he’s still limited by his recovering left wrist injury, his top concern is getting back into competition to make sure he’s ready for the spring season.

“I got better and learned some things about myself this weekend,” Page said. “I think a few more matches this fall and I’ll be playing a lot better.”

Page said opponents were still taking advantage of his injury. While one decommissioned hand has made Page develop other parts of his game, Dancer said not everything is there yet, as evidenced by the results this weekend. He beat Samford’s Trey Carter 6-1, 6-3 for his lone victory. 

A big part of Page getting back into the swing of competition is his mental approach. Page felt this weekend allowed him to get back into a competitive mindset. Both physically and mentally, the weekend served as an early step in Page’s road to recovery with the Illini. 

“Get him back going, get his match counts up and I think there’s some real bright spots with him this weekend but he’s still got to get the sea legs back competing,” Dancer said. “I think this was the first step to it … hopefully a month from now he’ll be playing some great tennis.”

Chris can be reached at [email protected]