Illini of the Week Nov. 12: Tim Kopinski and Ross Guignon


Editor’s note: The Daily Illini sports desk sits down on Sunday nights and decides which Illinois athlete or coach is our Illini of the Week. Athletes and coaches are evaluated by individual performance and contribution to team success.

Ross Guignon and Tim Kopinski entered the fall season as the nation’s No. 2 doubles team. While Guignon insists the ranking is just a number, and more of a reflection of past success than anything else, Kopinski said the news brought a different reaction.

“Definitely excited, but we also felt like we needed to prove ourselves,” Kopinski said.  “We felt maybe a little bit of pressure to prove we belong at that two spot.”

After an inconsistent fall, Guignon and Kopinski proved they belong atop the nation with a strong second-place finish at the ITA Indoor National Championships, the fall season’s biggest tournament. They defeated the Atlantic, Central and Southwest Regional champions to advance to the finals against USC.

The pair almost didn’t even have a chance to play at the tournament. They earned a bid as a wild card, while almost all of the competitors qualified from their respective Regional Championship. 

“The chemistry comes pretty naturally, so the matches we missed at Regionals really didn’t hinder us too much moving forward,” Guignon said. “I was taking care of what I needed to do so when we got in these big matches, I’d be ready.”

The chemistry comes naturally for Guignon and Kopinski because the seniors have been playing doubles together, as well as living together, for four years. They’re great friends, and Kopinski said it shows on the court, where the two complement each other perfectly.

“Tim brings a lot of the power and the hammer. I’m a little more of the craftiness and the finesse,” Guignon said. “We get things going, and as long as we’re taking care of those individual things … all of that chemistry stuff comes really incredibly naturally.”

Even with four years of sharing just about everything, it has taken a little while for the duo to get things going this fall. They haven’t had that many chances to play with each other. At the first national championship tournament of the fall, ITA All-Americans, Guignon and Kopinski fell in the first round to Vanderbilt’s Gonzales Austin and Rhys Johnson, who would advance to the quarterfinals. They went on a run to get to the consolation finals, but fell to Nick Chappell and Will Stein of TCU. Guignon and head coach Brad Dancer both said the doubles team was a little rusty.

A concussion held Guignon out of the ITA Midwest Regional, so he and Kopinski played only one more match together before Indoor Nationals: an 8-4 loss to Texas A&M’s top doubles team, Harrison Adams and Shane Vinsant, at the Conference Challenge in College Station, Texas. Kopinski saw time playing doubles with other players, but he said it’s not the same as playing with Guignon.

“It’s a little different at first. I kind of expect Ross to be in certain spots where some else isn’t,” Kopinski said. “Different people have different styles. It just kind of builds your all-around game.”

Kopinski has built his game with success on the singles court this fall. He posted an 11-5 record in four competitions, including a round of 16 appearance at All-Americans, where he almost knocked off Baylor’s Julian Lenz, the country’s No. 1-ranked singles player. Kopinski says the singles experience helps improve his doubles game.

“Confidence. Getting more repetitions. I get a lot of serve repetitions, return repetitions. I think I try to play the returns pretty similarly in singles and doubles,” Kopinski said. “You get to see a lot more balls … that confidence transferred into doubles.”

That individual improvement is what Guignon said helped the pair break through at Indoor Nationals. He said both he and Kopinski have been progressing individually this fall, and the results showed on the court this weekend. In a tournament where everyone earned a bid through regional play, Guignon and Kopinski defeated three Regional champs in Virginia’s Luca Corinteli and Ryan Shane, Wichita State’s Tomislav Gregurovic and Tin Ostojic, and UCLA’s Mackenzie McDonald and Martin Redlicki. It wasn’t unfamiliar territory, though, as the pair also made the semi-finals last year.

“We talked a lot when we were in the semis this year, we were heading into our third set and it was just sort of like, we’ve been here, we’ve been in this moment,” Guignon said. “We were just going to do things on our own terms, play our style of tennis and it paid off for us.”

The pair lost a tough final match to USC’s Yannick Hanfmann and Roberto Quiroz, returners from the Trojans’ national championship team last year and the tournament’s No. 1 seed. Assistant head coach Marcos Asse said their loss in the finals to USC could have gone either way.

“A couple of breaks didn’t fall their way to be honest,” Asse said. “It was really indicative of how they played the whole week, even after that, I think a lot of teams, it would’ve taken the wind out of their sails, like, ‘Oh, there goes our chances.’ They kept their heads down and stayed on it.”

The collegiate fall season is now officially over, but Guignon and Kopinski will play in the USTA JSM Challenger at Atkins Tennis Center this week as a wild card entry. Asse said the doubles team is playing well, and they can keep rolling in the Challenger.

“They just need opportunity,” Asse said. “This weekend, coming back to the Challenger, I feel like is another great chance to just sort of put all that back to the test.”

They will have plenty more chances to play together in the spring season and plenty more chances to prove they deserve a No. 2 ranking, or maybe even more.

“We’re looking to build on that (ranking) and get some wins on our resume,” Guignon said. “Maybe turn that into a No. 1 come the spring.”

Christopher can be reached at [email protected]