Illinois women’s tennis team enters Big Ten play on hot streak

By Jonathan Joffe

The Illinois women’s tennis team looks to keep rolling when it faces Indiana this Sunday at home to start Big Ten play.

In its last outing, Illinois swept its Feb. 15 doubleheader against Marquette and Chicago State. Despite the two-week layoff, head coach Michelle Dasso has kept her players in game form.

“We had practice matches this past Friday,” Dasso said. “We had at least three hours worth of full-on, two out of three matches with an eight-game pro set.”

In an effort to keep practice as close to match conditions as possible, Dasso and her assistant coaches called foot faults and enforced pace-of-play rules.

Along with Friday’s mock matches, Dasso thought it was important to give her players some much-needed rest, allowing them to take the rest of the weekend off.

“Anyone that knows tennis knows that our season is just non-stop,” Dasso said. “We play so much in the fall and the spring, and it’s really important to take care of your body and take rest.”

Senior Melissa Kopinski welcomed the time off — she said Dasso banned the team from the Atkins Tennis Center over the weekend, forcing the players to rest.

Kopinski shared her experiences in handling the hardships of a season with the younger players and spoke with the team’s underclassmen about staying calm during Big Ten play.

“I just keep reminding them that it is just another match,” Kopinski said. “Big Ten conference play just means a different format. Mentally, they know what we expect from them.”

The different format that Kopinski spoke about is the Big Ten’s return to regular scoring during conference play, a decision that was made a few weeks ago. Singles matches will be decided in a best two-out-of-three set format, while using advantage scoring on deuce points. Doubles matches will be decided in an eight-game pro-set, also using advantage scoring on deuce points. Dasso does not see this change as a hard one to adapt to.

“It’s pretty easy to switch back to the regular format because that’s what the girls have been playing with their whole lives,” Dasso said. “I think, if anything, the shortened format has made us stronger because we’ve been forced to deal with pressure point situations a lot more often.”

The pressure will be on nonetheless against Indiana — the Hoosiers are coming off of two big wins versus then-No. 20 Notre Dame and Tennessee. Illinois knocked off Indiana 5-2 last season, and Dasso, Kopinski and sophomore Alexis Casati all said that familiarity with Indiana and other Big Ten teams helps set the Illini’s expectations for the match. Dasso highlighted the importance of home-court advantage in the Big Ten.

“We have two home matches this month (Indiana and Ohio State),” Dasso said. “If there’s two Big Ten matches we could be playing at home, these are the two.”

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