In a perfect world, any team will win every game they are supposed to win. In 2019, the Illini Men’s Tennis team did just that. With a 16-7 overall record and a national ranking of No. 15, the Illinois men are looking to make some noise in the Big Ten Tournament this weekend in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
At 10-1 in Big Ten play, Illinois looked practically unbeatable aside from a 4-2 loss against current No. 1 Ohio State. All seven losses came against nationally ranked teams, with only one of those teams being outside the top 10. The road to the championship likely goes through Ohio State and with an overall record of 26-2, that may be a tall task. I believe, however, this team is up to the challenge.
The focal point for the Illini may be Zeke Clark and Aleks Kovacevic. Clark has gone 7-1 in his last 8 singles matches while losing his last three doubles matches. Kovacevic sits at 9-2 in his last 11 singles matches all the while winning his last six decisions on the doubles court.
One dark horse to keep an eye out for could very well be Siphosothando Montsi, who has won three straight decisions in thrilling fashion. However, the way this team is built, anyone could be a dark horse to dominate this tournament.
If all the best teams win, Illinois will play Northwestern on Friday, followed by Penn State on Saturday. Earlier this season, the Illini beat both these teams 4-0 and 4-3, respectively. Head Coach Brad Dancer looks poised to get this team back to the NCAA Tournament and advance further than last year’s upstart team that made it to the NCAA Quarterfinals.
All things considered, without downgrading any other teams in the Big Ten, this tournament looks to be on track for an Illinois and Ohio State showdown on Sunday. Earlier this season, the Buckeyes had the Illini’s number, taking the victory 4-0. Now, if given another shot, Illinois will be ready to take the upset. For now, enjoy the ride this team is on and prepare for the NCAA Tournament beginning on Friday, May 3.
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