Illinois women’s tennis unable to win pressure points

By Cole Henke

Illinois women’s tennis head coach Michelle Dasso said that the score of Tuesday’s match did not reflect how close it actually was.

The Illini won just a single set and fell to No. 26 Kentucky, 4-0, in Lexington, Kentucky, in their first dual-match loss of the season.

“This one hurts, but it will not change how we prepare for our next match,” sophomore Alexis Casati said. “Now all we will do is practice harder for the next one.”

No advantage scoring hurt the Illini, as Casati lost several crucial games on deuce points — she dropped the first set 6-0. She put up a fight in the second set but lost 6-3. The Illini dropped both of the other completed singles matches: senior Melissa Kopinski fell 6-1, 6-4 to Aldila Sutjiadi and sophomore Jerricka Boone lost to Mami Adachi 6-4, 7-5.

Slow starts plagued the Illini all day: the No. 3 doubles team of sophomores Casati and Madie Baillon fell behind 0-5 to start its match.

“Doubles is such an important part of the match,” Dasso said, “When you only play one set, you can’t afford to get behind 3-0, let alone 5-0.”

Casati and Baillon lost key deuce points to fall down 0-5 in their doubles set, and with the no advantage scoring system, those do-or-die points came back to bite them.

Dasso added that falling in a hole in No. 3 doubles not only cost the team the match, but also negatively contributed to the morale of the other doubles pairs. She claimed that it put more pressure on the other teams, knowing that they couldn’t lose their matches if the Illini had any hopes of getting the doubles point.

The slow starts followed the team into singles. To throw things off even more, the facility they played at only had four courts, so the whole team didn’t go out at the same time. Freshmen Grace Tapak and Jade Hilton barely stepped out on the court before the match was over.

Sophomore Louise Kwong was the only Illini to win her first set, but was down 1-5 in the second set when Kentucky clinched its fourth team point.

Casati and the team are looking to put this match behind them, as they turn around and play San Jose State on Saturday.

This was the Illini’s first competition of the dual season, and Dasso said it served as a wake-up call. Illinois plays four nonconference matches prior to Big Ten dual play, and among those opponents, only Dasso’s alma mater Notre Dame is ranked higher than the Illini. Illinois went 2-3 in singles and 1-1 in doubles against the Fighting Irish at the Notre Dame Invitational in September.

Cole can be reached [email protected], and on Twitter @cole_Henke.