Sontag Win Seals Victory over No. 10 Duke
With the score tied at 3-3, Illinois senior Gavin Sontag (Aurora, Ohio/Aurora) won a three-set war at the No. 3 singles position to propel the No. 5 Fighting Illini past No. 10 Duke, 4-3, today at the Atkins Tennis Center.
"We beat a great Duke team today," said Head Coach Craig Tiley. "Our goal for this match was to finish strong and we were able to do so. I don't think there's a more competitive team in the country than our squad. This is a great start going into the National Indoor Championships next weekend because we've got things to build on."
Illinois improved to 6-0 on the season, the best start since 1976 when the Illini opened the year at 7-0. The Illini also won their 15th consecutive home dual match, the second longest streak in UI history.
The Illini claimed the crucial doubles-point thanks to a record-breaking effort by Oliver Freelove (Bromley, England/Seven Oaks). The UI senior teamed with Cary Franklin (Atlanta, Ga./St. Pius X) at the No. 1 position to sweep past Duke's No. 1 pair of Doug Root and Pedro Escudero, 8-3, to become the winningest doubles player in Illinois history. Freelove is now an incredible 95-34 (.736) in his career, breaking the former record of 94 wins set last season by departed-senior Brady Blain.
Illinois built a 3-1 advantage thanks to two straight-set wins, as Franklin defeated Duke's Pedro Escudero at the No. 2 spot, 6-4, 6-2, and Jakub Teply (Fort Wayne, Ind./Lake Mary) beat Porter Jones, 7-6, 6-0, at the No. 5 position. The Blue Devils rallied to knot the score with wins at the Nos. 1 and 4 spots to force a deciding match.
In the clincher, Sontag faced Duke's Dmitry Muzyka at the No. 3 position and seemed in control early, winning the first set, 6-3. Muzyka rallied to win a tie-breaker in the second set and forced another tie-breaker in the third set. Trailing 6-5, Sontag staved off a Duke match point and then held serve to take a 7-6 advantage. With Muzyka serving, Sontag fired a low return that was shot out of bounds to clinch a 6-3, 6-7, 7-6(6), win and a team victory as well.
The Fighting Illini will aim for a national title next weekend, as the squad travels to Seattle, Wash., for the USTA/ITA National Indoor Championships from February 18-21. Illinois opens the tournament against No. 12 Tennessee at noon on Thursday. Last season, the Orange and Blue upset three higher ranked teams to reach the finals for the first time in school history before falling to No. 1 Stanford.