Illini Alum Find Success at Australian Open
Jan. 31, 2013
URBANA, Ill. - As the 2013 season has just gotten underway for the University of Illinois men's tennis team, alumni overseas were making splashes in the Australian Open. Kevin Anderson made history when he made it to the Round of 16 for the first time in his young career. It also marked the furthest any Illini had advanced in a Grand Slam Event. Other Illini alum that highlighted or contributed to the Open were GD Jones, Rajeev Ram and Billy Heiser.
"I can't say enough about how proud I am of these young men and their success in the professional world," said Illinois head coach Brad Dancer. "Rajeev and Kevin both had outstanding tournaments. For all the Orange and Blue faithful that stayed up through the night and caught the matches, it was enthralling to see the Fighting Illini spirit kicking in Melbourne."
Now, while Anderson made waves on the court, his coach and former Illini teammate GD Jones couldn't have been happier. Jones represented the Orange and Blue from 2003-07 while Anderson was here from 2004-07.
"It is clear already that GD will be a tremendous mentor, friend and coach for Kevin this season," said Dancer. "That's a partnership that has had a close bond since their junior tennis days and possesses an abundance of mutual respect for one another."
Kevin Anderson started the Australian Open with wins over Paolo Lorenzi and Andrey Kuznetsov. Next, Anderson completed a huge win over 22nd ranked Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2. Yet, the magical run ended in the fourth round where Anderson lost to five-seed Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-2, 7-6.
"I was very excited to be in the fourth round of a grand slam for the first time," said Anderson. "It has been a great start to the year playing in the Hopman Cup and making the final of the Sydney ATP. It has also been a good start to my coaching relationship with GD Jones. All the Illinois alums are very excited to follow the Illini team's progress this year as it is a young team with a lot of potential."
Also supporting Illini nation at the Australian Open was Rajeev Ram, who played in Champaign-Urbana in 2003. Ram kicked off the Open with a 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 win over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez from Spain. However, Ram next ran into 12-seed Marin Cilic who defeated Rajeev 7-5, 6-2, 6-4.
Finally, there's Billy Heiser, who played from 2007-09 and now coaches Tim Smyczek. Smyczek defeated Ivo Karlovic in the first round but lost a tough four-setter against four-seed David Ferrer 6-0, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.
"Billy Heiser continues to progress his coaching pedigree as he helped Tim Smyczek advance to his first ever Australian Open second round," said Dancer. "Billy is striving to grow as a coach and soak in as many of these experiences as he can."
"It was a great experience being in Melbourne coaching Tim," said Heiser. "This is a really exciting time for us because he is a few spots away from breaking into the top 100. That has been a goal of his since he turned pro. It was also pretty cool being on the other side of the world and still feeling strong connections to Illinois. It's amazing to see the Illini guys doing well."