Illinois women’s tennis bounces back against USF

By Jonathan Joffe

The Illinois women’s tennis team moved to 7-4 on the season with a win over South Florida on Sunday. The Illini, led by sophomore Louise Kwong and freshman Grace Tapak, defeated the Bulls 4-3.

Illinois started hot in Tampa Bay, Fla., winning the doubles point after impressive performances at the No. 1 and No. 3 spots.

Kwong and senior Melissa Kopinski defeated Olaya Garrido-Rivas and Jessica Cortes 7-5 at the No. 1 spot, while Tapak and sophomore Alexis Casati got a win at the No. 3 spot over Juliana Cardoso and Hailey Grillo, also by a 7-5 score.

Kopinski and Kwong extended their winning streak to four straight matches, while Casati and Tapak picked up their third win together on the season.

Illinois head coach Michelle Dasso stressed the importance of doubles all week in practice. It was for good reason because the doubles point on Sunday was crucial for the Illini.

“Doubles is very important in college tennis,” Dasso said. “That is a huge part of what makes college tennis so special, and to start off with the first-overall point of the match gives you momentum and a little more room to breathe in singles.”

Tapak certainly took that momentum from her doubles victory into her singles match at the No. 5 spot. The freshman defeated Hailey Grillo 6-1, 6-1 in straight sets, giving the Illini their second point of the match.

After that match concluded, however, USF began to make a push. Sophomore Madie Baillon fell to Olga Martinez in straight sets 2-6, 4-6. Nevertheless, the Illini responded.

Kwong extended the Illinois lead to 3-1 after winning at the No. 3 spot 6-2, 6-3 over Jessica Cortes. Kwong also felt that she and her team benefited greatly in singles after picking up a win in the doubles portion of the match.

“Our match went to 4-3, so that doubles point was huge since that is what made the difference,” Kwong said. “We’ve been working all week in doubles, and I’m glad it paid off.”

After Jade Hilton fell at the No. 6 spot against Juliana Cardoso 5-7, 2-6, the Illini looked toward their captain, Kopinski, to finish off the Bulls.

Kopinski answered the call, sealing an Illinois victory and breaking the tie after defeating Vera Bessonova at the No. 2 spot 7-5, 6-2.

Dasso felt that road victory was a big confidence booster for the Illini and believes that her team gained essential experience that can be used as the season progresses.

“This win on the road, outdoors in the heat gives us valuable match experience in those elements,” Dasso said. “We have a couple more nonconference matches outdoors and strive to be one the most prepared teams in the Big Ten when it comes to playing outdoor tennis.”

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