Clean Sweep For Champion Illini
The top-seeded University of Illinois men's tennis team achieved perfection today, as the illini earned their third consecutive Big Ten Tournament title with a 4-1 win over third-seeded Purdue at the Varsity Tennis Courts in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Orange and Blue went undefeated in conference play for the second straight season at 13-0 and have now won 32 consecutive Big Ten duals.
"The guys fought hard and played very solid tennis throughout the weekend," head coach Craig Tiley said. "Their competitiveness, fight and intensity helped pull the team through in this tough tournament. This is the fourth tourney final for our seniors and their third win in a row. These guys deserve this success because of all their hard work."
The Illini were challenged in doubles for the second consecutive day by three tough Purdue tandems. The Boilermakers are the last Big Ten team to win a doubles point against Illinois, claiming two of three matches in April of 1998. Purdue was not as successful today, as the Illini won at the Nos. 1 and 3 spots to claim the doubles point for the 22nd straight match in Big Ten play.
At the top spot, Illinois' third-ranked doubles team of Oliver Freelove and Cary Franklin fell behind early for the second straight day, as PU's pair of Derek Myers and Laith Al-Agba broke the UI duo's serve to build a 6-5 advantage. On this day, Freelove/Franklin would respond by breaking back and then holding a serve of their own to reclaim a 7-6 lead. With the match on the line, Franklin hit a high-arching lob that hit just inside the baseline to win the match 8-6. The Illinois duo is now 32-8 this season and 23-4 in all dual matches.
While the No. 2 doubles match remained tight, Illinois' No. 3 pair of Jakub Teply and Matt Snyder were up a brak and held a 7-6 advantage with Snyder serving for the match. Teply smashed an overhead lob for the match point, as the UI duo defeated Purdue's team of Jamie Gordon and Dan Swan 8-6. Teply/Snyder improve to 17-3 on the season and end the conference season a perfect 9-0.
Singles were just as competitive, as Purdue won the first set in three of the six matches. For the second straight day, Freelove was the first player off the court as he defeated Gordon 6-3, 6-2 at the No. 1 position. The Illini senior was down 3-0 in the third set before his booming serve took over, allowing him to rattle off six-straight points and give Illinois a 2-0 advantage in the team scoring. Freelove is now 32-14 on the season.
Purdue rallied with a straight-set win of its own just minutes later at the No. 3 spot, as Laski was beaten 6-2, 6-4 by Chris James to narrow the score to 2-1. Meanwhile, at the No. 4 position, Teply had gone to a second-set tie-breaker in his battle with Purdue's nationally-ranked Jason Marshall. Teply dropped the first point before rolling to a 5-1 advantage in the tie-break. After another Marshall point, the Illini senior served for the match and clinched it when Marshall's return was long. Teply's 6-2, 7-6 (2) victory gives him 34 wins on the year, just six wins shy of the school record of 40 set by fellow-senior Gavin Sontag last season.
The deciding match was between the Nos. 2 and 6 positions. Both Franklin and Snyder had split their first two sets, and Snyder was up 4-1 in the third against Dan Swan. At the same time, Franklin was down 3-1 in his third set before he took his game to another level. The Georgia-native broke down Derek Myers' serve three times and reeled off five straight points to clinch Illinois' third-straight conference tourney crown. Snyder was up 5-2 at the No. 6 position and had match point on Swan's serve when Franklin clinched his match at the No. 2 spot, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
"Every year our goal is to win a conference and national title and we will continue on our quest in the coming weeks," Tiley said. "This team is primed for more post-season success. They know how to compete in championship situations."
The Illini wrap up the conference portion of their schedule at 25-3 overall and 13-0 in the Big Ten. The squad will learn of its NCAA fate on Wednesday, May 5, as Illinois has a shot at hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Championships at the Atkins Tennis Center from May 15-16.
Illinois 4, Purdue 1