Illinois men’s tennis starts fast with two weekend win

By Christopher Kennedy

The Illinois men’s tennis team played better doubles and started faster this weekend in two victories, a 7-0 sweep over No. 27 Kentucky and a 6-1 win over No. 51 Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind. The Illini went 4-0 in doubles and led the in two uncompleted matches, while taking 9-of-12 first sets on the weekend. 

No. 31 Jared Hiltzik said, “We really made that a big focus in practice this week: getting our doubles down.” 

In the doubles, some new pairings brought success for the Illini. Blake Bazarnik and Brian Page took the doubles point against Kentucky with a win on Court 3, while Hiltzik and Farris Gosea claimed two weekend doubles victories. No. 3 Ross Guignon and Tim Kopinski picked up their first win of the season against Purdue on Saturday and led 5-3 against Kentucky on Friday. 

“Kudos to Brian Page in the doubles,” head coach Brad Dancer said. “He served the way we wanted him to serve, I think he set the tone for all three of our doubles teams out there.” 

After picking up a point for Illinois on Court 6 against North Carolina, Toshiki Matsuya worked his way up the lineup. The freshman took down Kentucky’s Trey Yates in straight sets, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3 on Court 5. He moved up to Court 4 for the match against Purdue and picked up a marathon point with a 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-3), 1-0 (10-6) score. 

On both Friday and Saturday, another freshman, No. 62 Aron Hiltzik, took over the No. 2 singles spot and went 1-1. On Friday night, he completed the sweep of Kentucky with a hard-fought match over Jerry Lopez — 6-2, 6-7 (6-8), 7-6 (8-6). Lopez was visibly irked by the crowd’s noise during the final set.

No. 44 Aleks Vukic also grinded out a tough victory against Kentucky. Vukic fell behind big early against Kevin Lai, but closed the gap to 3-6. Vukic was in control for the next two sets, taking them 6-3, 6-3 and claiming the Illini’s third singles victory of the night. 

Jared Hiltzik played the No. 1 singles spot Friday and took home the victory over No. 92 Beck Pennington of Kentucky. The victory gave Hiltzik a 6-0 start to the season, and he acknowledged that the Wildcats were a tough battle in singles.

“They’re deep from 1-6. It showed that with a lot of matches going three sets,” Jared Hiltzik said. “We just had to stay focused, stay on our court and take care of business.”  

The Illini will host this week’s ITA Team Indoor National Championships in Chicago. Dancer said playing two matches in a row this weekend was a valuable chance to prepare. 

“We tweaked our schedule a little bit,” Dancer said. “With the Indoor Championships next weekend, this might be a good chance to experiment a little bit with what it’s like play a match late and then turn around and play another one late.”  

Christopher can be reached at or on Twitter