Freelove Ends Phenomenal Career
Illinois senior Oliver Freelove ended his collegiate career today with a tight, three-set defeat in the NCAA Singles Championships round of 16, as the England-native was edged 6-4, 6-7 (11-9), 6-4 by TCU's Esteban Carril, the No. 4 seed. Freelove ends his senior season with a career-best 37-16 singles record and became the first Illini to earn All-America honors in both singles and doubles.
"Oliver played very well today but he was just beaten by a better player," head coach Craig Tiley said. "He fought back after the first set and gave himself an opportunity to win the match. Unfortunately, he was unable to convert."
The two players had already met once before this season, as Carril defeated Freelove 6-3, 6-2 in the quarterfinals of the ITA Claycourt Championships in September. Today's match was much closer, as the difference proved to be break points.
Freelove had his serve broken early to fall behind 2-0 in the first set. The Illini senior failed to capitalize on his six break points in the first eight games, as Carril built a 5-3 lead and served for the first set. Finally, on his seventh break-point opportunity, Freelove broke Carril's serve to pull within 5-4. On Freelove's ensuing serve, he was called for a controversial foot-fault on his second serve to fall behind 30-40 in the game. On the next serve, Carril hit a winner to clinch the set 6-4.
In the second set, both players held serve as Carril built a 5-4 advantage. The TCU sophomore, who had converted on both of his break point opportunities in the match, earned another break point on Freelove's serve with a shot to close out the match. Illinois' top player responded by forcing deuce and holding to knot the score at 5-5. In the eleventh game, Freelove finally converted a break point of his own to go up 6-5 and serve for the match. Carril broke back once again to even the score at 6-6 and force a tie-break, where he would quickly build a 6-3 advantage. Freelove battled off five match points to even the tie-break at 9-9 and then score the next two points to force a third set.
In the final set, both players again held serve to a 3-3 tie. However, in the seventh game Carril converted his fifth break point to claim a 4-3 advantage. Both players held serve to push the score to 5-4, where Carril served the match out for a tough trhee-set win.
Freelove's 37 singles wins rank second on the UI single-season list, behind Gavin Sontag's 40 wins last year. On the Illinois career list for singles wins, the England-native finishes second at 119-62, just one win shy of the top spot held by Sontag with 120 wins. Freelove finishes his career as the only Fighting Illini player to win at least 100 matches in both singles and doubles, with an Illinois-record 115 doubles wins.
"Oliver has had a great career at the University of Illinois," Tiley said. "His development has been one of the major reasons why Illinois is now a top national program."
The NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships run through the weekend, as the title match for both singles and doubles will be played on Sunday. Two Illini netters earned All-America honors this weekend, as Freelove was honored in both singles and doubles and his partner Cary Franklin was named a doubles All-American. Illinois will lose three key seniors for next season in Freelove, Sontag and Jakub Teply, as the Illini aim for their fourth straight Big Ten Championship and their first national title.
NCAA Singles Championship
Esteban Carril (No. 4 seed), TCU, def. Oliver Freelove (9-16 seed), Illinois, 6-4, 6-7 (11-9), 6-4