URBANA, April 5, 2019 (Press Release)
The No. 15 Fighting Illini men’s tennis team heads to the Mitten for Big Ten Play against the Michigan State Spartans and No. 20 Michigan Wolverines. Illinois will head up to East Lansing, facing the Spartans on Saturday, April 6 at 11 a.m. CT. Dating back to 1998, the Illini have a 26-match winning streak against Michigan State, while also leading the overall series, 59-28.
The following day, the Illini will head to Ann Arbor to face the third ranked team in the Big Ten, Michigan. The 2017 season was the last time Illinois earned a road win over the Wolverines. In a gritty fashion, the Orange and Blue bounced back from doubles play to win the match, 4-2.
Scouting the Opposition
- Michigan State (6-14): A veteran collegiate men’s tennis coach, Gene Orlando, is entering his 28th year at the helm of Michigan State’s men’s tennis program… During the Spartans’ 100th season, he led the Green and White to their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance during the 2012-13 season. During the 2011-12 season, Orlando helped the Spartans tie for the most wins in program history with an 18-11 record, while posting their winningest Big Ten conference record at 7-6… Under the watchful eye of Orlando, current Illini men’s tennis coach, Brad Dancer, played for the Spartans during his collegiate career… Last season, Michigan State picked up a close win against the Purdue Boilermakers, 4-3… The Michigan State Spartans welcome a trio of freshmen, Carson Gates, Anthony Pero, and Nick Williams.
- No. 20 Michigan (12-5): Hired on June 14, 2014 as the 15th head coach of the Michigan men’s tennis program, Adam Steinberg enters his sixth season donning the Maize and Blue… In 2018, he coached the team to the fourth-best win total in school history with 22, while leading Michigan to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2008… During the 2015-16 season, the Wolverines went 14-0 at the Varsity Tennis Center, marking the first undefeated season in school history at the VTC. Steinberg led Michigan to its biggest turnaround in school history, increasing U-M’s win total from seven to 21 with essentially the same team… While at Pepperdine, he helped the Waves claim the 2006 NCAA Championship team title… Steinberg has garnered many accolades including 2006 ITA National Coach of the Year and 2012 ITA Southwest Regional Coach of the Year… The Michigan Wolverines welcome four fantastic freshmen to its talented squad.
Make that Two for Kovacevic
Junior Aleks Kovacevic was named the Big Ten Men’s Tennis Athlete of the Week for the second-time this season on March 26, as announced by the league office. The New York native posted three victories this with two at No. 1 singles and one at No. 1 doubles against Florida, UCF, and Purdue.
On March 20, the New York native defeated Florida’s No. 15 Oliver Crawford for the second time this season, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3. Facing UCF for the first time in program history, Kovacevic continued his winning ways on Friday, March 22, defeating No. 38 Gabriel Decamps, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3. This helped Illinois pick up their first program win over the Knights.
Paired with sophomore Alex Brown for the second-time this season, the duo clinched the doubles point against Purdue on March 24. This marked the fourth time Kovacevic has clinched the doubles point for Illinois. The 4-0 Sunday sweep against Purdue kept the team undefeated in conference play.
Kovacevic currently sits at No. 9 in the ITA Rankings with a perfect 12-0 in singles play, including six victories over ranked opponents during the dual match season. The junior stands 10-0 overall on the season at No. 1 singles and has an undefeated 4-0 record when participating in three sets during singles play.
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 are undefeated in conference play with a 5-0 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 19-0 Big Ten singles career record, including a 12-0 record on the season. The New York Native has also boasted a 12-7 Big Ten doubles career record. In Singles Big Ten play, Clark has gone undefeated during his sophomore and junior year with a 12-0 record. Overall, Clark has recorded a 16-5 record in singles conference play. Khlif has come on strong this year, with an undefeated 4-0 singles Big Ten record. Khlif’s overall career conference record is 10-4 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 10-2 Big Ten doubles career record. Gomes also holds a winning doubles conference record of 7-4, including an undefeated 3-0 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 five conference matches under his belt, freshman Keenan Mayo is undefeated in conference singles play with a 3-0 record.
In the Rankings
As a team, the Illini currently sit at No. 15. Individually, two Illini are ranked in singles play. Junior Aleks Kovacevic sits in the top-10, matching a career-best ranking at No. 9 rank due to an undefeated 12-0 record in singles dual match play. Sophomore Alex Brown remains in the top 50 at No. 42. Sophomore duo Brown and Caleb Chakravarthi remain in the doubles rankings at No. 52 due to handing Northwestern’s then No. 32 Simen Bratholm and Nick Brookes their fourth loss of the season with a 6-4 victory on March 8.
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. 15 Fighting Illini men’s tennis team closes their home slate with some big marquee matches next weekend at the Atkins Tennis Center. Next Friday, the Illini face a rising Penn State that sits third in the Big Ten behind No. 1 Ohio State and the Illinois. The Orange and Blue have won the last four matches against the Nittany Lions, including two quarterfinals during the Big Ten Tournament. Illinois leads the overall series 32-5.
Next Sunday, the Illini will have their home finale against the reigning ITA Indoors Champions, No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes. In 2015, the Orange and Blue swept the Buckeyes, 4-0, to win the 2015 Big Ten Tournament in front of the home crowd at Atkins. Despite the Scarlet and Gray’s recent success, the Illini lead the all-time series 60-49-1.