Kovacevic Powers Through To NCAA Singles Semifinals

Aleks Kovacevic (photo: NCAA Tennis)

ORLANDO, May 24, 2019 (Press Release)

Fighting Illini men’s tennis junior Aleks Kovacevic advances to the NCAA Singles Championships after a three-set victory over 54th-ranked Sam Riffice of Florida at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla. on Thursday evening.

“Obviously I am proud of Kova,” said Brad Dancer. “He had very little control for most of that match. A large part of that credit goes to Sam (Riffice). He is a phenomenal player and took everything away from Kova.”

Kovacevic, who is ranked No. 10 nationally in singles and came in the tournament as the No. 7 seed, bested 54th ranked Riffice, 6-7(2), 7-6, 6-3. After a slow start, the First-Team All-Big Ten honoree was able to battle back after dropping the first set, 6-7(2). Kovacevic managed to gain momentum throughout the match, winning the tiebreaker in the second set, 7-5. The New York Native took charge in the third set, winning 6-3.

“What Kova did best was hang around,” noted Dancer. “He finally got some momentum on his side and was able to capitalize.”

Tonight’s win marked his 13th ranked victory in singles play this season. Kovacevic improves to 22-3 in singles play since the beginning of the spring season and 33-6 overall. The No. 7 seed matches the program’s 17th best longest singles winning streak with 14 matches.

He is the third Illini in program history to reach the semifinals at the NCAA Singles Championships and first since Illinois Athletics Hall of Famer, Kevin Anderson, in 2007. Illinois has won four NCAA Individual titles in program history. The lone singles championship came in 2003, when Amer Delic defeated Baylor’s Benedikt Dorsch, 6-4, 6-3 to claim the title in Athens, Ga.

Tomorrow, Kovacevic will face No. 4 seed Paul Jubb of South Carolina, who he has yet to face this season. Jubb is a two-time All-SEC honoree, earning second-team in 2018 and first-team this season. The British native has a 20-2 dual-match record and was 32-4 overall. In conference play, Jubb recorded an impressive 11-1 record, losing only to No. 1 seed Nuno Borges of Mississippi State on March 11. This marked the highest SEC win percentage for a single season in South Carolina history.

“We were able to see Paul (Jubb) against Zeke (Clark) in the Fall, so we know how good he is,” said Dancer.

Match times and court assignments for the semifinals will be announced later tonight.

Kawai Wraps Up Historic Run 

Fighting Illini women’s tennis sophomore Asuka Kawai saw an unforgettable season come to a close during the NCAA Singles Quarterfinals on Thursday evening at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla.

“Obviously this is not the result Asuka (Kawai) was looking for today, but it doesn’t take anything away from what she accomplished this week,” said head coach Evan Clark. “I could not be prouder of Asuka (Kawai) and the incredible year she put together from start to finish.”

Ranked No. 43 in the latest Oracle/ITA Division I Women’s rankings, Kawai fell in straight sets to top-seed and ranked Estela Perez Somarriba of Miami, 6-4, 6-4. Kawai was able to battle back to take a 3-2 lead in the second set before Perez Somarriba closed out the match.

Kawai concludes her memorable sophomore season with a 18-10 singles record since the beginning of the spring season. The Palatine, Ill. native also recorded 11 ranked victories in single play, including a top-10 victory over North Carolina’s Alexa Graham during the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 16. She earned Unanimous All-Big Ten selection for the first time in her career and was named the ITA Midwest Region’s Player to Watch. She also was a two-time Big Ten Tennis Athlete of the Week (Feb. 26 and March 5) this season.

“To beat 11 ranked opponents, earn unanimous All-Big Ten selection, achieve All-American honors, and reach the Elite Eight in the NCAA Singles Tournament will certainly go down as one of the best, if not the best individual season in program history,” noted Clark.

Her quarterfinalist finish surpasses Illinois Athletics Hall of Famer, Lindsey Nimmo Bristow, who previously held the Orange and Blue’s record for the best finish at the NCAA Singles Championships, playing in the Round of 32 in 1991 and 1993.

“The exciting part for me is that I know we get to have her back for two more years,” said Clark. “She certainly has a lot of room to develop even more, along with the rest of the program, so we are delighted to keep building and certainly have a bright future.”

Next week, she will learn where her success in the postseason landed her in the final Oracle/ITA Division I Women’s Singles rankings of the season.

Men’s Singles Main Draw

No. 10 (7th seed) Aleks Kovacevic
Round of 64 (May 20) – def. No. 96 Guanarteme Nuez (UT-Arlington), 6-3, 6-3

Round of 32 (May 21) – def. No. 65 Ewan Moore (Tulane), 6-3, 7-5

Round of 16 (May 22) – def. No. 50 Bar Botzer (Wake Forest), Walkover

Quarterfinals (May 23) – def. No. 54 Sam Riffice (Florida), 6-7(2), 7-6(5), 6-3

Women’s Singles Main Draw
Round of 64 (May 20) – def. No. 11 Maria Mateas (Duke), 3-6, 6-2, 6-3

Round of 32 (May 21) – def. No. 50 Brienne Minor (Michigan), 6-3, 7-6(11)

Round of 16 (May 22) – def. No. 7 Alexa Graham (North Carolina), 7-5, 6-3

Quarterfinals (May 23) – fell to No. 1 Estela Perez Somarriba (Miami), 4-6, 4-6