Illinois men’s tennis celebrate Senior Day with a 4-0 victory

By Christopher Kennedy

It was Senior Day on Sunday for the Illinois men’s tennis team during their match against Nebraska. Two of the team’s freshman phenoms were key to a 4-0 Illini victory, but one of the day’s honorees clinched the victory. Blake Bazarnik took down the Huskers’ Bradford Zitsch 6-2, 7-6 (7-5) in a thrilling tiebreaker win to keep the Illini perfect in the Big Ten. The team’s seniors — Bazarnik, Farris Gosea, Ross Guignon and Tim Kopinski — were ceremoniously honored between doubles and singles play.

“It’s always a privilege to play on these courts and obviously going into it very nervous at the start for Senior Day,” Gosea said. “We played a good match today. Got tricky at times, but everyone stayed focused and we got the job done.”

While Sunday was all about the team’s four seniors and their innumerable contributions to the program, it was also a showcase of the team’s promising freshmen. Bazarnik sealed the match, but freshmen No. 49 Aleks Vukic and No. 68 Aron Hiltzik put together dominating wins to put the Illini up 2-0 and 3-0, respectively.

Vukic had the most impressive match, shellacking Nebraska’s Chris Hobgarski 6-0, 6-0. Vukic got off to a quick start and never let Hobgarski in the match, immediately squashing any slim hopes for a comeback. In the final game, Vukic was down 40-0, but stormed back to win the match without dropping a game.

Hiltzik defeated Andrew Dzulynsky 6-0, 6-3. While Dzulynsky attempted to stage a comeback, Hiltzik held strong through deuce points in the final game to take the win. Hiltzik has now won 12 matches in a row, while Vukic has won his last 14.

It was the second of two weekend wins for the Illini, after beating Iowa 6-1 on Saturday. Vukic and Hiltzik also picked up wins against the Hawkeyes. No. 90 Gosea took over the No. 1 singles spot for the first time since his return to the lineup and took down Iowa’s only ranked player, No. 112 Matt Hagan, 6-1, 6-3. At No. 3 singles, No. 43 Kopinski was the first Illini to finish with a 6-2, 6-0 victory over Dominic Patrick.

The weekend continued the Illini’s hot streak in doubles with two more doubles point wins. The team of Gosea and Vukic went 2-0, including a 8-0 win against Dzulynsky and Hobgarski. 

The team of Jared Hiltzik and Kopinski and team of Guignon and Aron Hiltzik each picked up a win on the weekend. 

The Illini’s recent doubles success is a stark contrast to their troubles earlier in the season. Head coach Brad Dancer said the Illini’s doubles results have been much improved since restructuring the pairs.

“The chemistry’s been great with the teams and the execution can still get a lot better,” Dancer said. “Anytime you’re gelling out there, it’s a good thing.”

While it was Senior Day for the Illini, it’s far from their last competition at home. Illinois will return to Urbana for the Big Ten Tournament in two weeks. With regular season concluding next weekend, the Illini senior class has the opportunity to leave their mark on the program.

“It’s a special group,” Dancer said, “They wanted to create their own legacy. They’re certainly going to do that as they come down the home stretch here and finish the season.”

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