URBANA, March 1, 2019 (Press Release)
The No. 11 Fighting Illini men’s tennis team continues its non-conference slate with a pair of highly competitive Big 12 teams in the state of Texas on Friday and Sunday. Illinois will start its Texas tour in Waco against the No. 7 Baylor Bears on Friday night at 6 pm CT. The Illini returns to Waco for the first time since a 4-2 win on March 18, 2016. Illinois leads the overall series, 7-5.
On Sunday afternoon, the Orange and Blue will travel north to the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) area to face the No. 12 TCU Horned Frogs at Noon CT. Illinois blanked the TCU Horned Frogs in the Round of 16 at the NCAA Championships last year. Illinois is looking to close in on the overall series with TCU leading, 8-5.
Scouting the Opposition
No. 7 Baylor (10-2): In his first season as the Baylor Bears head coach, Brian Boland was named the ninth men’s tennis head coach in program history on May 24, 2018… With 21 years of head coaching experience, Boland has amassed a 574-90 career record and led teams to 17 NCAA Tournament appearances, including four national championships at Virginia. His teams have averaged less than one loss in conference play per season, going a combined 209-18 over 21 seasons… Last season, the Bears went 14-1 at home and 21-10 overall with six signature wins, including three Big 12 teams – Oklahoma State, TCU, and Texas Tech. Baylor achieved a final ITA national ranking of 18… All-Americans Jimmy Bendeck, Juan Benitez, Sven Lah, and Will Little lead the experience squad. All-Big 12 honorees Constantin Frantzen, Johannes Schretter, and Roy Smith also add depth to the squad.
No. 12 TCU (7-3): In his six years at the helm of the TCU men’s tennis program, David Roditi has returned the Horned Frogs to the top of the tennis world with a 152-75… A former TCU tennis player, Roditi was a three-time All-American who still holds the school record for combined career victories… In 2015, Roditi became the 11th head coach in the history of NCAA Division I men’s tennis to lead his team to the semifinals of the NCAA Championship as a player and a coach… During the 2013 season, the Frogs concluded the season as the nation’s overwhelming leader in attendance, posting top NCAA figures for each of the four major categories: total fans (8,714), average turnout (581) and largest crowd at an individual match (1,425 vs. Texas A&M on Feb. 2)… The Horned Frogs are coming off a 20-5 season in 2017-18, when they finished ranked ninth nationally. TCU also went undefeated in conference play with a 5-0 record… The talented and young team is led by All-Americans Reese Stalder and Alex Rybakov, along with All-Big 12 honoree Alastair Gray.
Last Time Out – ITA National Team Indoor Championships Recap
The Illini earned a 1-2 record at the 2019 ITA National Team Indoor Championships two weeks ago in Chicago. Illinois opened the tournament by dropping a heartbreaking 4-3 decision to then-No. 6 Texas. The following day, the Orange and Blue fell to then No. 4 Florida, 4-1. On Sunday, Illinois concluded ITA Indoors with a win over Tulane, 4-3, by taking the doubles point and securing wins at the No. 1, 2, and 6 positions. Illinois currently leads the overall series, 4-2.
Kovacevic Rolling in 2019
Junior Aleks Kovacevic is emerging as a leader for the Orange and Blue, recording a perfect 7-0 dual match singles record with wins over four ranked opponents in 2019. The New York native’s seven-match singles winning streak began on Feb. 1 vs. Duke. Kovacevic has won four of those matches in straight sets with one involving a tiebreaker. The junior helped clinched the victory at Notre Dame, defeating No. 74 Richard Ciamarra, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4. In doubles, Kovacevic and freshman Keenan Mayo have a 5-3 record and have clinched three doubles points this season.
In the Rankings
In week five, the Illini jump into the top 10 of the ITA team rankings for the first time this season. Illinois moves up six spots after an exhilarating win over the UCLA Bruins on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at the Midtown Athletic Club in Chicago, Ill. The Illini also concluded the ITA National Team Indoor Championships with a close 4-3 victory over Tulane on Sunday, Feb. 17. As of late, the Illini are ranked at No. 11.
Individually, three Illini ranked in singles play, while sophomore duo Alex Brown and Caleb Chakravarthi ranked in doubles play. Junior Aleks Kovacevic broke into the top-10 with a No. 9 rank due to an undefeated 7-0 record in singles dual match play. He bests his previous career-high rank by 15 spots. Sophomore Alex Brown remains in the top 30 at No. 28, while junior Zeke Clark is ranked at No. 101. The first Illini duo to make the ITA doubles rankings for the 2019 season is Brown and Chakravarthi, who came in at No. 49.
Illini Lineup Returns
Illinois returns eight players from the 2017-18 squad, including six letterwinners. Without any seniors on the team, the Illini juniors Vuk Budic, Zeke Clark, Gui Gomes, Noe Khlif, and Aleks Kovacevic will provide leadership and guidance for the team. With a year under their belt, sophomore duo Alex Brown and Caleb Chakravarthi will add depth to the Illini lineup.
Head Coach Brad Dancer adds four freshmen to the program – Lucas Horve (Forsyth, Ill.), Keenan Mayo (Long Beach, Calif.), Siphosothando Montsi (East London, South Africa), and early enrollee Alex Bancila (Lake Bluff, Ill.). Local five-star recruits, Horve and Bancila, along with Mayo and Montsi are expected to make an immediate impact for the Illini after successful ITF junior careers.
The No. 11 Fighting Illini men’s tennis team returns home to commence Big Ten play for a two-match homestand beginning with the Northwestern Wildcats on Friday, March 8 at 6 pm CT. Last season, the Illini swept the Wildcats 4-0 in Evanston, Ill. Illinois leads the overall series 67-38-2.
On Sunday afternoon, the Illini compete against the Indiana Hoosiers at Noon CT. Since 2013, Illinois has a seven-game winning streak against Indiana, leading the overall series 47-44.