Tennis

Illinois Men’s Tennis takes on No. 1 TCU, UIC, No. 4 Baylor in tough matches at Atkins

Illinois Men's Tennis takes on No. 1 TCU, UIC, No. 4 Baylor in tough matches at Atkins

Sidney Malone

Redshirt junior Siphosothando Montsi performs a backhand swing during his doubles match with graduate student Oliver Stuart against Duke on February 19. The Illini will have 3 home games this weekend against Baylor, UIC and TCU.

After a weekend break between games, the 3-6 Illini will be put to the test this weekend at Atkins, with games against the No. 1 TCU Horned Frogs, No. 4 Baylor Bears and the UIC Flames.

Last time out, the Illini went 2-1 on their weekend, beating the Northern Kentucky Norses and earning an intense win over the No. 22 North Carolina Tar Heels.

Prior to Illini’s game against the Norse, the team sat at 1-6 this season. The two wins they picked up over the weekend were integral to the rest of the season.

“It was a much needed win,” head coach Brad Dancer said of his team’s win over North Carolina. “At some point you just want to stop the bleeding, and hopefully that’s what it’s done and we can build on it.”

Ahead of a weekend of tough games, the Illini will start their weekend with a game against No. 4 Baylor on Friday. Sitting at 14-1 this season, the Bears appear to be the real deal.

High-profile wins over No. 9 Kentucky, No. 16 Oklahoma and No. 14 Ole Miss over the past two weeks have sent the Bears skyrocketing in the standings as their only loss this season came at Tennessee. No. 2. Baylor will be the team’s toughest game so far this season, and the intensity shown in Illini’s game against the Tar Heels will be needed again.

Illini’s game against the struggling UIC Flames (1-10) will be a great way to start Saturday’s games. UIC is currently on a seven-game losing streak, with its last loss coming at the hands of Chicago State. Chicago State was Illinois’ first win of the season, and the Illini dominated the game with ease, 4-0. While the Illini will need to be locked in and focused to beat any team, the UIC should serve as a good warm-up for the Illini’s final game of the weekend.

Illinois’ final game of the weekend is against TCU’s newly ranked No. 1 Horned Frogs. TCU has been on a tear, toppling the No. 1-ranking team twice in Florida and Ohio State.

The Horned Frogs also easily beat No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers last weekend, just a day after beating Ohio State. If the Illini are looking to win against the Horned Frogs on Saturday, the team’s best tennis will have to be displayed on the first serve.

Preparing for such tough opposition week in and week out is tricky, especially when there are only a few days between games and travel that allows the team to work on something important. Last weekend’s out-of-competition weekend allowed Dancer and his team to help his team shore up their weaknesses heading into this Friday and heading into the conference game.

“We put a little more emphasis on our singles game,” Dancer said. “I I think our doubles game has been fair this season, but our singles game has been less than adequate.

Illinois is expecting a tough weekend of games no matter how you look at it. With momentum from the team’s win over the Tar Heels and a fully rested roster through Friday, the Illini will try to re-enter this weekend. Three weekend wins will return the Illini to the top 25 and a tied season record.

Action at Atkins begins at 6 p.m. Friday with the team’s opener against Baylor. Saturday morning at noon, the Illini will host the Flames, followed later by the team’s 6 p.m. fight against TCU.

@DrewFriberg9

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