The Wisconsin men’s tennis team remained undefeated at home on the season after defeating both Illinois and Purdue over the weekend.
Following Saturday’s match against the Boilermakers, head coach Greg Van Emburgh told his team he wanted them to come out and play more aggressively. They seemed to be up to the challenge.
The Badgers fired on all cylinders Sunday as they recorded a 5-2 upset victory over 16th-ranked Illinois. The win snapped a 14-match losing streak versus the Illini.
“Bar none, this was our best match of the year,” Van Emburgh said. “All across the board, Illinois is a program with a rich tradition in their tennis. The guys really overall, one through six [singles], and then the guys who played doubles, really stepped up, and said, ‘we’re winning today.’”
“We’ve been talking about this all year, the potential of this team, and we really showed our potential today. If we can come out with the mindset like we did today, the sky is the limit with this team.”
To start the day, the Badgers’ No. 3 doubles team of Jeremy Sonkin and Marek Michalicka defeated the Illinois duo of Marc Spicijaric and Connor Roth 8-5. Wisconsin picked up another doubles point when the No. 2 tandem of Luke Rassow-Kantor and Michael Dierberger upset Ruben Gonzales and Brandon Davis 8-6.
“It was huge to come in against a team like Illinois that hasn’t lost much this whole year. It was a huge turnaround for us,” Dierberger said. “The doubles win gave us a lot of momentum going into singles.”
Dierberger kept the momentum rolling with a 6-2, 6-0 victory over Brandon Davis to give the Badgers a 2-0 lead. The Illini pulled within 2-1 as Marc Spicijaric defeated Jeremy Sonkin 6-2, 6-4 at No. 4 singles, but Marek Michalicka gave UW a 3-1 lead with his 6-4, 6-2 upset victory over Billy Heiser at No. 3 singles.
With the No. 1, 2 and 5 singles matches all going to a third set, UW needed a win in just one of the three remaining matches to clinch the dual meet victory. It was Nolan Polley who did the honors with yet another upset victory. Polley defeated Ruben Gonzales 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 to give the Badgers an insurmountable 4-1 lead.
“It’s great to clinch the match against this type of team,” Polley said. “But obviously, three other guys had to step up and win their matches too, and I’m just glad we finally got a good win here.”
Rassow-Kantor also pulled out his match at No. 5 singles with a 2-6, 7-6, 7-6 victory over Waylon Chin.
Wisconsin was led by strong performances from its No. 1 and 2 singles players in a 6-1 victory over Purdue Saturday, as well.
Purdue came out strong and raced out to an early lead in two of the three doubles matches, but Wisconsin battled back to clinch the pivotal doubles point, and ultimately won by a hard-fought 6-1 decision.
Moritz Baumann and Polley combined to defeat the Purdue duo of Patrick Rose and Branko Kuzmanovic 8-4 in the No. 1 doubles match. UW clinched the doubles point when Jeremy Sonkin and Marek Michalicka dominated the Purdue tandem of Paul Foley and Eric Ramos 8-2 at the No. 3 doubles position in just their third match together.
“We’ve been struggling to find our doubles lineup, but Marek and I are playing really well together, Sonkin said. “We make a lot of returns, get a lot of balls back, and really make our opponents beat us, and so far we’re really playing well together. We’re starting to get a feel for each other and are playing some good tennis.”
Much like in the doubles matches, Purdue got off to a quick start in the singles matches and had a number of early leads before the Badgers rallied back to take control and ultimately win five of six?Baumann defeated Kuzmanovic 6-3, 6-1 at the No. 1 spot, while Polley downed Slavko Bijelica 7-5, 6-2 at the No. 2 position.
The rest of the singles matches were hotly contested. Michalicka defeated Rose 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 at the No. 3 spot, while Sonkin rallied to defeat Griff Nienberg at No. 5 singles.
Michael Dierberger also won his match at No. 6 singles with a 6-2, 7-6 victory over Foley.
With the victories this weekend, the Badgers improve to 4-1 in the Big Ten and 12-7 overall.