Illinois men’s tennis wins both matches of Sunday doubleheader

By Christopher Kennedy

It was a complete weekend for the Illinois men’s tennis team.

The Illini won two matches Sunday in a doubleheader against Toledo and Big Ten rival Indiana. Friday night they knocked off Northwestern 5-2.

The Illini swept the Hoosiers 7-0 and were well on their way to sweeping the Rockets, winning 4-0 and leading in the three remaining matches when the event was called. With more than a month until their next home matches, the Illini went three-for-three at Atkins Tennis Center on the weekend.

Friday night’s match was the only one of the weekend with any tension for Illinois.

While Illinois has dominated Northwestern recently, victory wasn’t certain from the start. No. 11 pair Ross Guignon and Tim Kopinski secured a win on Court 1, but Farris Gosea and Jared Hilzik dropped their match on Court 2 and Blake Bazarnik and Brian Page fell on Court 3. After the match, head coach Brad Dancer said he’s not happy with the team’s doubles play.

“We just can’t continue to play doubles the way we’re playing,” Dancer said. “It sucks the energy out of our crowd, it sucks the energy out of our team, it’s an energy vampire the way we’re playing doubles.”

But despite losing the doubles point, Illinois made up ground in singles. Toshiki Matsuya picked up the first victory for the Illini, controlling his entire match against Fedor Baev of Northwestern, winning 6-2, 6-1. It was smooth sailing from there on out for the Illini, who finished with a 5-2 win. All four of Illinois’ ranked singles players picked up victories.

Dancer brought some different line-ups into the mix Sunday. Aron Hiltzik and Matsuya provided a spark for Illinois in doubles, winning 6-1 against Toledo and leading 7-5 against Indiana when doubles play ended.

Matsuya was impressive on the weekend, nearly picking up three wins. On Sunday, he dominated Toledo’s Nicky Wong 6-0, 4-2 — the match was called before it ended — and defeated Indiana’s Sven Lalic 6-4, 6-4. He has gone undefeated in dual matches this season and is earning more opportunities on the singles court.

“I’ve just been really focusing on my purpose, as Brad would always say,” Matsuya said. “I’ve just been working really hard, and I’m pretty confident on the court right now.”

Fellow freshman No. 46 Aleks Vukic had the Illini’s first singles win against Indiana: a commanding 6-2, 6-1 victory over Stefan Lugonjic. Earlier in the day, Vukic got a chance in Illinois’ No. 1 singles spot and faced off against Stjepan Sikso of Toledo. Vukic rallied back from a deficit to take the first set 6-4 and was tied 2-2 when the match was called.

“Vukic has had a season where he’s earned the right to play up towards the top spot,” Dancer said. “We know we’ve got a deep team right now … (Vukic) worked his tail off, and I just wanted to reward him with the opportunity.”

No. 37 Tim Kopinski also played in both of Sunday’s matches and came away with two victories. Kopinski handled Toledo’s Mark Singnil 6-1, 6-0 and won a heated match with Indiana’s Raheel Manji 6-4, 6-2.

With the Illini preparing to hit the road for an extended period, Dancer said this is the time of year that the team has tended to struggle. This year was the Illini’s first time scheduling matches the weekend after ITA Indoor Nationals. While the weekend has been left open in the past, Dancer thinks the change can benefit the Illini.

“We’ve never scheduled this weekend before. We’ve always had the weekend off after indoors,” Dancer said.”The fact that we made it through this weekend is minorly positive.”

Chris can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @ChrisKennedy_4