Illini fans cheer on Illinois during their 2007 NCAA Tournament run.
June 4, 2007
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois men's tennis team put the final touches on what came to be a tremendous run under second-year head coach Brad Dancer in 2007. From a 7-1 start to open the season, followed by a tumultuous Big Ten and non-conference schedule to follow - mixed with injuries and trials - the Illini pulled it together in the end to win nine of their last 11 matches, including an NCAA Tournament finals match appearance.
Illinois finished the year runner-up in the tournament behind undefeated and No. 1 Georgia (32-0), but the finish did not mare what was already one of the best tournament Cinderella stories of all-time. Illinois made their way to the final by taking out No. 2 Ohio State (4-2), No. 3 Baylor and No. 7 Mississippi, doing it while dropping the doubles point in all but two of their postseason matches en route to the finals. Ranked No. 10 and the tournament's 10th seed, Illinois defied all odds to make only their second championship match appearance in the history of the program.
Taking his place in the final ITA FILA Tennis singles poll was junior Kevin Anderson, who came in at No. 4 in the FILA rankings after his 2007 semifinal appearance. Anderson lost to eventual 2007 NCAA singles champion Somdev Devvarman (Virginia) in a grueling three setter (7-6(3), 5-7, 6-3). Junior Ryan Rowe also grabbed a No. 19 final ranking despite falling in the opening round of the NCAA singles draw - the loss came at the hands of eventual tournament semifinalist Alex Slovic of Washington. Both Illini grabbed All-America honors for their singles accomplishments.
The 2006 NCAA champions and 2007 NCAA doubles runner-ups Anderson and Rowe finished the year ranked No. 5 in the final FILA poll. Going into the tournament as the defending champions this season, the pair lived up to their reputation, becoming the only doubles team in the history of the championships to make it to the finals with the same partner - coming in as the No. 8 seed to do it. Anderson and Rowe also grabbed All-America distinctions for the doubles performances before falling in the championships match in another three-setter to Andreas Siljestrom and Marco Born of Middle Tennessee State, 3-6, 7-6(6), 7-6(4).
Below is a bullet point list that highlights all the things the Illini have accomplished this season.
TEAM HONORS AND ACCOLADES
Went 19-9 against nationally ranked opponents, 10 of those wins against top-10 foes.
Finished second in the Big Ten regular season and Big Ten Tournament.
In 2007, Illinois made its 12th straight NCAA tournament appearance, the 13th-longest streak in the country. This is head coach Brad Dancers second straight with the program.
Finished NCAA Runner-up behind undefeated and No. 1 Georgia (32-0).
Illinois finished the season 13-0 at home and is currently riding a 17-match home win streak dating back to April of 2006. Illinois also has won 12 straight home postseason matches, dating back to 2002.
Illinois has now reached the Round of 16 eight out of the last nine years, advanced to the quarterfinals a total of six times (four out of the last eight), the semifinals three times and the finals twice, all since 1996.
Made the NCAA finals as the No. 10 seed and for only the second time in school history, knocking off No. 21 Michigan, No. 7 Mississippi, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Baylor en route to the finals. Became the lowest seed to make the finals since 2002 when No. 11 USC won the title.
Illinois made its second appearance in the NCAA finals and its second in the last five years. In its first appearance in 2003, U of I defeated No. 7 Vanderbilt, 4-3, to claim the title.
Illinois went on a tear in the NCAA tournament when it came to the best in the country. Illinois first took down, in the round of 64, Western Michigan, the automatic qualifier and conference champion out of the MAC Conference, 4-0. In the round of 32, Illinois took down conference runner-up No. 21 Michigan out of the Big Ten Conference. In the round of 16, Illinois bested No. 7 Mississippi, who also finished runner-up in the SEC behind No. 1 Georgia and was the Champion of the SEC West, 4-3. The Illini also downed Big Ten Conference champion, Ohio State, 4-2, while it ended its tear taking down Big 12 Conference Champion Baylor, 4-3, in the semifinals before falling to SEC Champion, Georgia.
In a true crowd-pleasing manor, Illinois dropped the doubles point in each of its matches during its run to the NCAA final - except its 4-3 win over Baylor (Semis) and 4-0 win over Western Michigan (1st Round) - and proved that its singles roster could persevere as they came from behind in each of its upset wins.
Illinois has made it to the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament every year under the current format (Since 1999).
Illinois has finished in the top two of the conference every year since 1996, including winning the regular season nine straight years (1997-2005).
Illinois has won six out of the nine conference tournament championships.
Opened the season winning seven of its first eight matches and closed the season winning nine of its last 11.
Achieved the 20-win plateau for the 10th straight season, dating back to 1998.
In the championship run, Illinois overcame amazing odds:
o Illinois topped three straight opponents who were ranked higher (No. 7 Ole Miss, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Baylor) en route to the finals.
o Illinois snapped Western Michigan's 11-match win streak to make it into the second round.
o Michigan had lost only once after winning the doubles point in 2007 (vs. then No. 9 Notre Dame) before Illinois handed them a 4-2 come from behind victory in the second round.
o Mississippi was 100-4 since 2002 when winning the doubles point, and 20-0 in 2007 before Illinois stole the come-from-behind victory in the Round of 16.
o Illinois snapped a four-match losing streak to Ohio State dating back to the 2006 season with its win in the quarterfinals.
o Illinois also ended Ohio State's 20-match win streak and handed OSU only its second loss of the season in the quarterfinal victory (First: No. 1 Georgia, 4-0).
o Ohio State was 30-0 when winning the doubles point in 2007 before Illinois ended OSU's title dreams in the quarterfinals.
o Illinois ended Baylor's 10-match win streak in the semifinals.
o Illinois scored four team points on Baylor, who hadn't relinquished a point the whole 2007 championships prior to the loss.
INDIVIDUAL HONORS AND ACCOLADES
Head coach Brad Dancer eclipsed the 100th career win mark this season, finishing the season 103-70 overall, and 47-16 at Illinois. Dancer hit the 100 mark with Illinois' gut-wrenching win over No. 21 Michigan (4-2) to advance to the Round of 16 in of the NCAA Tournament in Athens.
Kevin Anderson was named Big Ten Player of the Year, the fourth straight Illini to capture the honor in as many years.
Kevin Anderson also was named ITA National Player to Watch, becoming the first Illini to grab the honor after being named the Midwest Regional Player to Watch in 2006.
Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe were named first team All-Big Ten (Unanimous), marking the 11th straight season two or more Illini garnered the distinction and the 18th straight season an Illinois netter has garnered the honor.
Ryan Rowe and Marc Spicijaric were both named to the NCAA All-Tournament team for their efforts in leading Illinois to the title. Ryan earned the distinction at No. 2 singles, while Spicijaric was named to the team at No. 3 singles.
Illinois was ranked in the top 11 all season long - a season-high fifth four times - and finished the season fifth in the final ITA Fila Tennis poll.
The doubles tandem of Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe made the finals of the NCAA doubles championship for the second straight year, becoming the first tandem in NCAA history to go for a title with the same partner in consecutive years. The two finished runner-up.
Kevin Anderson became the first Illini to make the semifinals of the NCAA singles tournament since Amer Delic did it in 2003 en route to his first and the program's first NCAA singles title. Anderson was ranked No. 5 and seeded fourth and fell to eventual champion No. 2-ranked Somdev Devvarman in three sets (Virginia), who defeated No. 1-ranked John Isner of Georgia in the finals.
Ryan Rowe was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA singles tournament by the eventual Cinderella story and player, Alex Slovic of Washington, who earned a ticket into the tournament after being the sixth alternate, eventually making it to the semifinals where his run was ended by No. 1 John Isner. Slovic took out previously undefeated (No. 3) Jesse Levine of Florida in the quarters and No. 5 Stephen Bass of Notre Dame in the round of 16 en route to his tremendous 2007 run.
Kevin and Ryan's selection to the NCAA tournament singles draw marked the 18th time overall, and 11th straight season an Illini was in the bracket. Anderson's run to the semifinals kept the statistic going that every year an Illini has made it past the opening two rounds, except two, and marked the ninth time overall an Illinois netter has made it to the Round of 16.
Kevin and Ryan's selection into the NCAA tournament doubles draw marks the 14th time overall and 11th straight season an Illini duo has been involved in the bracket. Since 2000, including 2007's results, an Illini pair has advanced to the quarterfinals six times, including finals appearances four times (2000, 2003, 2006-07). Illinois has won more doubles titles in the last seven years than any other Division I program and is the only school in the Big Ten with a doubles title.
In all, five different Illini were ranked at some point during the season. Sophomore Marc Spicijaric was ranked for two different weeks, his highest No. 83 (Jan. 9), GD Jones garnered a preseason nod of No. 58 (Sept. 8), Anderson was ranked No. 17 to open the season, and then from Feb. 21 through the end of the season held a top-10 standing and as high as No. 5 (April 3, 24), while Rowe rounded out the group opening the spring No. 11 (Jan. 9) and reached as high as No. 8 (March 6). Anderson finished the season No. 4, Rowe came in at No. 19 - to earn both players All-America honors - Spicijaric was ranked No. 103 and junior Ruben Gonzales made his first appearance in the rankings at No. 125 in the final ITA poll.
In doubles, Anderson and Rowe were ranked as high as No. 1 (Sept. 8) but spent the whole entire month of April in the top 10, GD Jones and Marc Spicijaric opened the preseason rankings at No. 58 (Sept. 8), Anderson and Spicijaric grabbed a No. 19 ranking to open the spring (Jan. 9) while Anderson and Gonzales earned as high as a No. 10 nod during their time together (Feb. 21, March 6). Rounding out the rankings, Jones and Brandon Davis received a March 6 ranking of 32nd as their highest tally during their time together this season. Anderson/Rowe finished the season ranked No. 5, while Anderson/Gonzales came in at No. 37 in the final ITA FILA tennis poll.