Illini Blank Gophers For Title Shot
The top-seeded University of Illinois men's tennis team shut down another conference foe today in the semifinals of the Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbor, Mich., as the Illini blanked fourth-seeded Minnesota 4-0 in a match that was closer than the final score indicates. Illinois improves to 24-3 on the year, setting a new school record for dual match wins, and extends its Big Ten winning streak to 31 matches.
"We knew going in it was going to be a very hard-fought match," head coach Craig Tiley said. "However, we also knew that it was our match to win if we took care of business. I was excited about our team's effort and intensity and we will need it to repeat that performance tomorrow."
Doubles proved to be a battle, as Minnesota came out strong at all three positions. At the No. 1 spot, UM's pair of Tom Chicoine and Martin ichalowksi bolted to a 4-1 lead over UI's third-ranked duo of Oliver Freelove and Cary Franklin before the Illini rallied to pull within 7-6. Freelove served for the tie but was broken, as the Gopher duo held on for the 8-6 win, ending Freelove/Franklin's 16-match winning streak.
While the top match was still in doubt, Illinois' team of Jakub Teply and Matt Snyder defeated Minnesta's pair of Tom Haug and Martin Kristoffersen 8-5 at the No. 3 position. Teply/Snyder are now 16-3 overall and 8-0 in conference, with a nine-match winning streak.
The clincher in doubles came at the No. 2 spot, as Jeff Laski and Jamal Parker remained undefeated on the season with a 9-7 victory over the pair of Adam Selkirk and Tyson Parry. Laski/Parker are now 11-0 in conference and 17-0 on the season, just one win shy of tying the school record for consecutive doubles wins. In 1958, the Illini duo of Breckenridge/Bielfeld went 18-0 to set the record.
Singles play was just as competitive, as the Illini dropped the first set at three positions. At the top spot, Freelove faced Chicoine, the No. 25 player in the country, for the third time this season. The Gopher senior had defeated Freelove on two prior occastions, including the finals of the Regional Championships in the fall. Chicoine seemed in control again, breaking Freelove's serve to build a 5-3 advantage in the first set. However, the England-native rallied back to break Chicoine's serve twice on his way to claiming the first set. Freelove cruised through the second set behind his booming serve for a 7-5, 6-3 victory to put Illinois up 2-0 in the match. He improves to 31-14 on the year, the third-highest win total in school history.
The rest of the matches were tight, as three Illini went to three sets. One player who didn't was Teply, who continued to build on his impressive season with a 7-5, 6-4 defeat of Adam Selkirk at the No. 4 spot. The UI senior is now 33-14 on the year, the second-highest single-season win total in school history. Fellow-senior Gavin Sontag won a school-record 40 matches last season.
For the second-straight day, the clinching win came at the No. 3 position, as Laski rallied from a one-set deficit to edge Minnesota's Haug, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. The UI junior dropped his first set 6-4 before rolling to a 6-1 win in the second set. Laski claimed a 5-4 lead in the third set and served for the match, only to lose two match points and face a break point before holding serve for the 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory. While Laski went three sets, he finished his match only minutes after Teply wrapped uo his straight-set win.
With their second-straight 4-0 victory, the Illini advance to the Big Ten Tournament championship match for the fourth straight season. Illinois was defeated by Michigan in 1996 before winning the last two tournament titles, both over Northwestern. On Sunday, the Orange and Blue face a dangerous Purdue team, the No. 3 seed. The Boilermakers nearly upset the Illini in Champaign earlier this month, falling 4-3 at the Atkins.
"This team has worked hard to put itself in position to compete for the championships," Tiley said. "We will need to play very well tomorrow to beat Purdue. But we've been in this position before so these guys know what to do."
The Illini are now 24-3 this season and 12-0 in the Big Ten as they advance to the championship match against Purdue. The Boilermakers defeated seventh-seeded Northwestern 4-2 to advance. The title match will be played at the Vasrity Tennis Center on the campus of the University of Michigan at noon central time.
Illinois 4, Minnesota 0