Illini men’s tennis kicks off spring season with Illini Invite

By Christopher Kennedy

While students prepared to return to frigid Champaign this weekend, the Illini men’s tennis team hosted its first meet of the year in sunny Fort Myers, Florida. The No. 11 Illini kicked off the spring season by posting a 17-6 record against No. 23 Memphis and Florida Gulf Coast in the Illini Invite.

After a promising fall season, freshman Aleks Vukic put together a stellar first weekend. Vukic was a perfect 3-0 in singles, capped off by a hard fought 7-6 (4), 6-4 win over Memphis’s highest ranked player, No. 23 Andrew Watson. Vukic also had a strong doubles showing, going 2-0 with two different partners.

In the fall, his first semester of college tennis, Vukic had an 18-4 record. He started off the season hot with a semifinals appearance at the Southern Intercollegiate Championships and then won seven straight qualifying matches at All-Americans. Vukic’s also went 4-0 at his final meet of the fall at Texas A&M. He begins the season ranked for the first time at No. 44.

Another Illini freshman, Aron Hiltzik, earned his first ranking in the start of season list. Hiltzik is ranked No. 62. In singles, Hiltzik was 1-1 on the weekend with a victory over No. 23 Watson of Memphis. He also won a doubles match with Vukic over Memphis’s Connor Glennon and Kai Lemke.

Freshman Toshiki Matsuya went undefeated in singles play in Fort Myers. He went 3-0 and defeated all three opponents in two sets. Matsuya struggled early in the fall season, but with a semester of college tennis under his belt, he should be more prepared to make an impact in the spring. In doubles, Matsuya was 0-2, playing with Hiltzik and Brian Page.

Page spent the fall recovering from a broken wrist and a stress reaction in his foot. In the fall, he said his goal was to be ready for the team-focused spring season. He had his first action of the spring this weekend, going 1-2 in both singles and doubles.

Ross Guignon was the third and final Illini to go 3-0 on the singles court. Guignon was also a perfect 3-0 on the doubles court with partner Tim Kopinski. In the first national rankings of the spring season, Kopinski and Guignon are ranked third. They’re coming off a second-place finish at the ITA Indoor National meet and a professional championship at the Champaign JSM Challenger.

Kopinski went 1-1 in singles. He enters the spring ranked No. 40 in singles, moving up from his No. 44 preseason ranking in the fall season. In the fall, Kopinski had a strong performance, advancing to the Round of 16 at the ITA All-American Championships. He fell in a tough match to then-No. 1 Julian Lenz of Baylor. Kopinski will have another chance against Lenz this week, as the Illini travel to Waco to take on the Bears in their first dual meet of the season.

Chris can be reached at cmkenne2@dailyillini.com.