Illini End Impressive Run in NCAA Championships
The University of Illinois men's tennis team ended its amazing season today in the round og eight at the NCAA Championships, a Mississippi earned the doubles point and won three of the six singles matches for a 4-3 win in Athens, Ga. The Illini end the season with a record of 28-4 after reaching the quarterfinals of the NCAAs for the first time in school history.
"We didn't execute in doubles and that really hurt us," head coach Craig Tiley said. "We fought hard in singles to come back and nearly pulled off the win. I can't say more about our guys' effort. They showed a lot of heart and should be proud of what they achieved this season."
The doubles point proved to be the difference as Illinois fell behind 1-0 for the first time in the last three months, ending a 21-match streak of winning the doubles point. The last time the Orange and Blue lost the doubles point was in the finals of the National Team Indoor CHampionships against UCLA on February 21. In today's match, two Illini duos saw impressive winning streaks come to a halt.
Doubles play began on the outdoor courts before rain forced the match indoors after less than an hour. While outdoors, the Illini fell behind quickly at both the Nos. 2 and 3 positions. At the No. 3 spot, the pair of Jakub Teply and Matt Snyder was down one break at 6-3 before moving indoors. The Mississippi duo of Martin Selin and Kristofer Stahlberg quickly broke Illinois' serve once again to build a 7-3 advantage before serving out the match for the 8-3 victory. The loss ended a 13-match winning streak for Teply/Snyder.
At the No. 2 position, the duo of Jeff Laski and Jamal Parker were defeated for the first time all season, ending a school-record 18-match winning streak. The Illini combo was broken twice on the outdoor courts and trailed 7-3 to the pair of Anders Stenman and Vikrant Chadha. Illinois' struggles continued indoors, as the Rebels held serve for the 8-4 win to give Mississippi a 1-0 advantage. At the No. 1 position, Illinois' pair of Oliver Freelove and Cary Franklin were up a break and serving for the match at 7-4 when play was suspended.
With only four courts available on the indoor courts, the Illini roared back at the top four positions of singles. Mississippi built its advantage to 2-0 at the No. 4 spot as Gavin Sontag was defeated 6-2, 6-2 by Chadha. From that point, Illinois would reel off three straight victories to retake the lead.
Freelove began the comeback with a straight-set win at the No. 1 position, defeating Mississippi's james Shortall, ranked 25th nationally, 6-3, 6-4. The Illini senior improves to 35-15 on the year with 23 wins over ranked opponents.
At the Nos. 2 and 3 spots, both matches went to three sets. For the second-straight day, Laski upset a ranked player for a crucial victory at the No. 3 position, dropping Stenman, the No. 76 player in the country, 6-2, 2-6, 7-5. The Illini junior jumped out quickly to win the first set before dropping the second set by the same score. In the final set, both players held serve as Laski built a 6-5 advantage. He claimed a 40-0 lead in the final game and Stenman battled off one match point before Laski held on for the win to knot the team score at 2-2.
Franklin put the Illini ahead with an emotional match at the No. 2 spot. Playing in front of family and friends from his hometown of Atlanta, the UI junior dropped the first set against Sjoqvist but battled back to win the match 3-6, 6-2, 6-2. In the deciding set, both players held serve as Franklin earned a 3-2 lead. He would break Sjoqvist's serve twice in the rest of the match, including the clinching point to earn the win. Franklin ends his singles season with an impressive mark of 35-10, tied for the team lead with Freelove and Teply.
Mississippi would rally at the bottom spots, as Stahlberg started the comeback with a 6-3, 6-0 defeat of Snyder to even the score at 3-3. With all of the matches off court except one, the deciding point came at the No. 5 position where Illinois senior Jakub Teply faced Mississippi freshman Martin Selin, ranked 85th in the country.
Both players held serve in the final set before Selin broke Teply's serve to win the set 7-5. In the second set, both players again held serve as Selin built a 6-5 advantage again. Teply battled off two break points that would have ended the match and held serve to knot the score at 6-6 and send it into a tie-break. In the tie-breaker, Selin jumped out to a 4-1 advantage before the UI senior made his own move. Teply battled off three match points and claimed an 8-7 lead and earn a set point of his own. Selin responded by holding serve twice to build a 9-8 advantage and when Teply double-faulted on his ensuing serve, the Rebel freshman had earned the clinching victory 7-5, 7-6 (10-8). Teply ends his Illinois career with an impressive 35-15 record in singles, the second-highest single-season total in school history.
Mississippi avenges a quarterfinal loss to the Illini in the National Team Indoor Championships in February. In that match, Illinois dropped the doubles point but earned wins at each of the top four singles positions for the 4-3 victory.
While the dual match season is over for Illinois, four UI netters will participate in the individual NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships later this week. Freelove will begin singles play on Wednesday while the pairs of Freelove/Franklin and Sontag/Laski will compete in doubles beginning on Thursday.
#6 Mississippi 4, #3 Illinois 3