NCAA Tennis – First Round Regional Match
The University of Illinois has a relatively recent history of success in men’s tennis. For a Midwest school to register on the national scene in tennis is a feat (like baseball, schools in the west and south are the traditional powers…think Southern California, Stanford, Georgia). So for a school like Illinois to go 32-0 in 2002/03 and become national champions was an incredible feat. That was a while ago, and the team has obviously changed. Several of the players on that team are playing professionally now. The coach, Craig Tiley, has gone, too – to become the Head of Tennis Australia (and you may see him in the stands during the Australian Open). In that span, Ohio State has become the tennis power in the Big Ten, with Illinois often running in second place. Again, Ohio State was favored to win the Big Ten this year. But…2 weeks ago, Illinois came up big and upset OSU. I believe the win provided the opportunity for Illinois to host first-round regional matches in the NCAA post-season tournament. [Note, next year, the University of Illinois is host to the national finals! We can only hope the Illini are playing in those finals – in a 10-year anniversary of sorts!]
By way of background, college tennis is scored on a best of 7 points. The match starts with three doubles matches (one set, first to 7 games). The winner of 2 of 3 doubles matches gets 1 point toward the 7. After the doubles matches are completed, 6 singles matches are played (simultaneously). Each singles match (best 2 of 3 sets) gets a point. In a close match, that doubles point can be very important. In college, there are not let serves, so if a serve hits the net and falls in, the ball is in play. Team tennis matches are loud and raucous. Lots of action on six courts, cheering, clapping, etc. It is definitely NOT the sedate show you see on TV.
I haven’t watched the team for several years. Since my knee has gone south on me, tennis is not in the playing cards. I miss the game and going to watch this first-round match reminded me of what I miss. So, here are some images from the match yesterday. The seats are arranged such that one sits behind the courts and must watch through a chain-link fence. This does not make for ideal viewing and for even less ideal photo-taking. To obscure the fence, one must use a relatively long lens and a shallow depth of field, so it is difficult to have both players and the ball in focus. But it was great fun and brought back good memories of my playing days.
I sat behind Court 2, to watch the singles match between Illinois’ Roy Kalmanovich and Western Michigan’s Zeyad Montasser. Here is Roy hitting a cross-court backhand.
Now a backhand down the line. Feet off the ground…
Now a cross-court forehand, again feet off the ground. He can really belt the ball!
Coach Brad Dancer.
Just hit a serve, and…
Preparing for a return of his serve.
The Illini are good. Play ended once the team was up 4 points to zero. The match I was watching ended before being completed as three other singles matches were won by the Illini (we won the doubles point earlier) before this match concluded. We were up 6-0, 3-2 in this match at the time and in all other matches the Illini had won their first sets. Complete results can be found on the Illinois tennis page. The next match is today (Saturday) against No. 17 Auburn. The Illini are ranked No. 16 nationally, so this is likely to be a close match. A win today puts the Illini in the Sweet 16 for the 12th time in the last 14 years. Good luck to them!
Sunday update. The Illini won against Auburn 4-3 and will be off to Athens, GA for the Sweet 16. They are rumored to face No. 1 and three-time defending champion Southern Cal. It will obviously take a minor miracle to pull off an upset against USC.