Saturday, May 8, 2010

Illini win thriller at ITA Kickoff

January 30, 2010
Don't let the score fool you, this was no 6-1 match.  It was a four hour tennis marathon, where the Illini came from behind to eliminate Virginia Tech from a berth at the ITA Team Indoor Championships.

The February Indoors has always taken the previous season's top teams (and the host team) into the draw regardless of how they were doing in the present season.  That all changed this year with the introduction of the ITA Kickoff.  With this plan, the top 15 teams (and tournament host Virginia) host an event to "playoff" among four teams for a winner.  The University of Illinois is one of the hosts, and the top seed at this location.

It was No. 3 Washington over No. 2 Boise State in the first match of the day, also a close one with a deceiving score.  Though Washington took the doubles point, Boise State was ahead in singles, leading most of the first sets and taking the first singles (Filipp Pogostkin over Derek Drabble).  The Huskies came back for two more of their own and then Tobi Obenaus clinched it with a 2-6,6-2,6-2 over Jeff Mullen.

The Fighting Illini went on right on time with Virginia Tech and were ready to go, dominating doubles on two courts and holding their own on the third.  Abe Souza and Connor Roth would be the first to take it at No. 3, with Dennis Nevolo and Johnny Hamui not far behind with their win and the doubles point for a 1-0 Illinois lead.  But the doubles momentum died quickly and the Hokies had nearly every first set, though not an easy feat.  There were side-by-side (with matching scores) tiebreakers at three and five singles, with Illini Stephen Ho dropping his (7/5) to Will Beck while teammate Marek Czerwinski took his team's only first set.  With Virginia Tech leading across the board, it looked like the home team might miss the ITA National Team Indoors for the first time in a decade, but it wasn't over.

I headed to No. 4 singles to watch Abe Souza and Patrick Daciek and, quite honestly, catch up a bit with University of Washington Coach Matt Anger.  It seemed like two minutes when we weren't watching the court and the entire momentum shifted.  The Illini were up on all the courts.  It was Marek Czerwinski who had the first victory and his team's only straight setter.  Dennis Nevolo would be next with a 3-6,6-2,6-2 over Yoann Re, and then we would wait.

I can't tell you exactly what happened on Court 5 because I was watching from afar, but Stephen Ho went from losing the tiebreaker in the first to taking nine straight games from Will Beck, at that point, though, Beck came back in it and the games slowed down dramatically.  Meanwhile, Luka Somen put Tech on the board with a 6-3,7-5 win over Johnny Hamui.  We were down to three courts, with the home players leading, but battling it out.

It looked like Court 5 would stay a bit behind, but it was a "who will finish first" contest between Abe Souza and Connor Roth on four and six.  With both up a bit at 5-3 in the third, it would be Roth's match -- his first singles win in college tennis -- over Sebastien Jacques, 4-6,7-5,6-4.  Souza would then take his at 6-7 (4-7),6-2,7-5.

On Saturday evening, the Fighting Illini will face Washington for the final round in this event.  There's free admission at the Atkins Tennis Center at 6:00 pm.
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