URBANA, March 20, 2019 (Press Release)
The No. 13 Fighting Illini men’s tennis team closes its non-conference slate against two ranked teams in the Sunshine State.
Illinois will start its Florida tour in Gainesville against the No. 4 Florida Gators on Wednesday afternoon at 4 p.m. CT. The Illini make its return to Gator Nation after seven years, leading the overall series, 11-7. The 2006 season was the last time Illinois claimed victory in Gainesville, halting Florida’ 15 match winning streak and defeated the Gators, 5-2.
For the first time in program history, the Orange and Blue will face UCF in a contest on Friday morning at 11 a.m. CT in Orlando, Fla.
Scouting the Opposition
- Florida (9-2): In his seventh season as Florida’s head coach, Bryan Shelton, has elevated the Gator men’s tennis programs after his illustrious coaching and playing career in college and the professional ranks… Shelton came to Gainesville after 13 seasons as the head coach of the Georgia Tech women’s program, where he led the Yellow Jackets to a national title in 2007. He also had a successful professional playing career that included reaching No. 55 in the ATP singles rankings and No. 52 in the ATP doubles rankings… Last season, Shelton led one of the youngest rosters on the court to a 19-10 overall record and 9-3 in the SEC… In 2018, the Gators advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight for the second time under coach Shelton and just the fifth time in program history… The young Gator squad are led by All-Americans Alfredo Perez, McClain Kessler, Johannes Ingildsen, and Duarte Vale. First Team All-SEC honoree, Oliver Crawford, also add depth, while Florida welcomes four fantastic freshmen to the squad.
- UCF (8-7): Entering his third season with the UCF Knights, John Roddick was named the UCF Director of Tennis on May 29, 2016. In his current position, Roddick serves as the men’s tennis head coach with oversight of both the men’s and women’s programs… Roddick came to UCF after seven successful seasons as the Oklahoma Sooners men’s tennis head coach, where he compiled a 146-48 record and led the Sooners to their third consecutive NCAA Division I runner-up finish in May 2016. He also helped Oklahoma earn their first Big 12 Conference Championship in 2012… In his first season with the Knights, Roddick guided the Black and Gold to a 16-7 record, including a 12-3 mark at home… In 2017, UCF earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, their first appearance since 2005… The young UCF squad is made up of eight underclassmen and lone junior Saitejas Mopuri.
Last Time Out – Opening Big Ten Play
The No. 13 Fighting Illini men’s tennis team returned home to commence Big Ten play for a two-match homestand beginning with the Northwestern Wildcats on Friday, March 8 at 6 p.m. CT and the Indiana Hoosiers on Sunday, March 10 at Noon CT.
Against the Northwestern Wildcats, the Illini swept the match, 4-0. Illinois is now 13-1 in Big Ten openers under head coach Brad Dancer, while continuing its dominance in the overall series, 68-38-2. En route to clinching the doubles point, junior Vuk Budic and redshirt sophomore Gui Gomes won the tiebreaker, 7-1, against Trice Pickens and Antonioni Fasano.
Freshman Siphosothando Montsi moved up to the No. 4 position, winning his first Big Ten match against Chris Ephron, 6-3, 6-1. The victory was clinched by Frenchman, Noe Khlif, who defeated Trice Pickens 6-4, 6-4.
The Illini earned their eighth consecutive win over the Indiana Hoosiers, 6-1, extending the overall series to 48-44. Illinois is undefeated in Big Ten play (2-0), while maintaining a 7-5 overall record on the season.
For the third time this season, Budic and Gomes clinched the doubles point with a 6-4 victory over Indiana’s Antonio Cembellin and Patrick Fletchall. Giving a spark to the singles lineup, Khlif was the first one off the court with a 6-2, 6-1 win at the No. 6 position. At the No. 1 position, junior Aleks Kovacevic clinched his second match of the season with straight sets, 6-4, 6-4 win against Antonio Cembellin.
After the 4-0, both teams continued play until the last match. Sophomore Alex Brown won a second set tiebreaker, 7-6(3), to defeat Bennett Crane, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3). Extending the Illini win to 6-1, junior Zeke Clark battled back to sweep the second set, 6-0, and win the third set tiebreaker, 10-7.
Florida Welcomes Back Former Gator, Marcos Asse, to the Swamp
Illinois men’s tennis associate head coach returns to Gator Nation after a solid career with the Florida men’s tennis team from 1997-2001. The Gainesville, Fla. native walked onto the team as a freshman and earned himself valuable playing time throughout his career. Asse contributed to Florida’s 2000 SEC championship team, posting 21 wins in doubles, ranking 10th in Florida history for a single season. He graduated in 2001 with a Bachelor of Arts in Finance from UF.
Conference Opponents Bring B1G Play
Last season, the Orange and Blue had an impressive 10-1 Big Ten record, only falling to 2018 NCAA runner-up finishers, the Ohio State Buckeyes. This season, the Illini has started off conference play undefeated with a 2-0 record.
Without any seniors, juniors Aleks Kovacevic, Zeke Clark, Vuk Budic, Gui Gomes, and Noe Khlif have provided leadership for the Fighting Illini men’s tennis program this season. Kovacevic has impressed all season with an undefeated 17-0 Big Ten record, including an 8-0 singles record for the 2019 Spring season. The New York Native has also boasted a 9-7 Big Ten singles career record. In Singles Big Ten play, Clark has gone undefeated during his sophomore and junior year with an 9-0 record. Overall, Clark has recorded a 13-5 record in conference singles play. Frenchman Khlif has come on strong this year, with an undefeated 2-0 singles record. Khlif’s overall career conference record is 8-4 in Big Ten play. Budic has recorded a 6-1 Big Ten singles record, including a 4-0 record during his sophomore year. Due to an impressive 5-1 Big Ten record during his freshman year, Budic holds a 9-2 Big Ten doubles career record. Gomes also holds a winning doubles conference record of 6-4, including an undefeated 2-0 this season.
Sophomore sensations Alex Brown and Caleb Chakravarthi have also impressed during conference play. The Sophomore tandem have gone 7-4 in doubles play last season, while winning their first Big Ten match of the 2019 Spring season against No. 32 Simen Bratholm and Nick Brookes of Northwestern. Both Brown and Chakravarthi went 8-1 in singles conference play last season, while remaining undefeated this season. With only two conference matches under his belt, freshman Keenan Mayo won his first Big Ten match with partner Aleks Kovacevic in doubles play against Indiana’s Zac Brodney and Bennett Crane, 6-3.
In the Rankings
As a team, the Illini move up to No. 13. Individually, two Illini are ranked in singles play. Junior Aleks Kovacevic sits in the top-15 with a No. 14 rank due to an undefeated 8-0 record in singles dual match play. Sophomore Alex Brown remains in the top 35 at No. 31. Sophomore duo Brown and Caleb Chakravarthi break into the doubles rankings at No. 45 due to handing Northwestern’s then No. 32 Simen Bratholm and Nick Brookes their fourth loss of the season with a 6-4 victory.
The No. 13 Fighting Illini men’s tennis team continues Big Ten play close to home in West Lafayette, Ind. against the Purdue Boilermakers on Sunday morning at 11 a.m. CT. Dating back to May 13, 1905, Purdue was the Illini’s first dual match opponent (on record). Last season, Illinois earned the program’s 100th victory with a 5-2 win against the Boilermakers inside Atkins Tennis Center. The Illini are now 100-11-1 all-time versus Purdue.