Illini men’s tennis blows away Ball State and Wisconsin-Green Bay

By Christopher Kennedy

Last year, the Illinois men’s tennis team dominated at home, posting a perfect 13-0 record. On Friday, in their first home matches of the season, the Illini defeated Wisconsin-Green Bay 4-0 and Ball State 7-0. The Phoenix and the Cardinals are the reigning champions in their respective conferences, but the Illini made short work of the pair.

Illinois is now 3-0 to start the season and holds a 17-match winning streak at home.

“We did a great job of focusing early on against Wisconsin-Green Bay,” head coach Brad Dancer said. “(Against Ball State) just the fatigue of the day and kind of where we’ve been this week maybe caught up to a couple guys early on. But they responded really well and showed some resiliency.”

Ross Guignon won both of his completed matches on Friday and continued his early-season success. Guignon won his lone singles match 6-1, 6-0 against Ball State’s Jan Jirus. Together with Toshiki Matsuya in doubles, Guignon also took down Leopold Islinger and Michael Tebon of Green Bay 6-1. After going undefeated at the Illini Invite Jan. 15-17 and playing well against Baylor on Wednesday, Guignon has had a strong start to the season.

“(Guignon has) kind of been the heart and soul of this team for a while now, and I think he knows this is his end time,” Dancer said. “He’s just dialing it in where he needs to be. He’s a good leader for us right now.”

Guignon’s doubles partner for the day, the freshman Matsuya, also had a good showing in his singles victory over Ball State’s Andrew Stutz 7-5, 6-0. Down in his first set, Matsuya rallied back to extend the set and win 7-5. Matsuya then dominated the second set 6-0 to put Stutz away.

Fellow freshman No. 62-ranked Aron Hiltzik rallied back in his win on the singles court as well. He defeated Ball State’s Ray Leonard 3-6, 6-0, 6-1. Hiltzik fell behind early to Leonard, a three-time All-MAC First Team senior, but took control in the second two sets to win the match.

For the first time this spring, Aron Hiltzik was joined on the doubles court by brother No. 31 Jared Hiltzik. The pair won its one completed match 6-1 over Ball State’s Lucas Anderson and Patrick Elliot. Jared also went 2-0 in his singles matches, defeating Green Bay’s Islinger 6-0, 6-3 and Ball State’s Patrick Elliot 6-4, 6-3.

“I started to play better in the second match,” Jared said. “(The) first match was ok, I competed well. (The) second match I hit the ball a lot better. I definitely played better towards the end.”

The two other Illini to go 2-0 in singles were Farris Gosea and Brian Page. Gosea quickly dispatched Green Bay’s best player, No. 77 Michael Tenzer, 6-1, 6-2 and took down Ball State’s Anderson 6-3, 7-6 (5). Gosea also won the two doubles matches he played in.

Page’s two wins were important as he continues to work his way back after a broken wrist and a stress reaction in his foot ended his spring season last year. Dancer said he thinks Page is turning the corner and will be key this season.

The Illini will stay at home next weekend, this time facing two highly-ranked opponents in No. 12 Duke and No. 7 North Carolina.

“It’s pretty great to be home; it’s a really fun atmosphere,” Jared said. “The big part of us doing well at home is the atmosphere and the community of the Champaign-Urbana … just makes us at home that much better.”

Christopher can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @ChrisKennedy_4.