The Wisconsin men’s tennis team will look to continue their recent string of success this weekend as they host 57th-ranked Purdue and defending NCAA runner-up Illinois. The Badgers have won six of their last eight matches, including a hard-fought 4-3 victory at 36th-ranked Penn State last Sunday.
“That was a big win for us, and it gave us a lot of confidence,” sophomore Moritz Baumann said. “It was tough to play there, everyone fought hard, and we came back and won 4-3.”
With the win, the Badgers improved to 10-7 overall and 2-1 in Big Ten play. UW enters this weekend’s matches ranked 48th in the country.
“I think overall we’ve played a lot of close matches, and winning that last close match against Penn State really helped us,” head coach Greg Van Emburgh said. “The guys were really excited about that, and guys are just stepping up. I think our best tennis is yet to come, and I think everyone is excited about that, is looking forward to that.”
First up for the Badgers on Saturday is Purdue. The Boilermakers enter the match with a 7-7 overall record, and are 1-1 in the Big Ten. Although Purdue comes in having lost its last three matches, the Badgers won’t be overlooking them.
“Against Purdue, we have to focus and take care of business,” Baumann said. “Everyone needs to be ready to go and just give 100 percent.”
Marek Michalicka, the Badgers’ No. 2 singles player, also expects a competitive match with Purdue.
“They will be tough, too. It’s the Big Ten, and Big Ten matches are emotional,” Michalicka said. “I’m expecting it to be tough.”
On Sunday, the Badgers will battle 12th-ranked Illinois. The Illini enter the match with a 9-5 record overall, including an unblemished 2-0 in Big Ten play. They have also won four of their last five matches. The Badgers are well aware that it will take a valiant effort to defeat Illinois.
“They have a lot of good players. It’s going to be a tough match,” Baumann said. “However, anything is possible. We’ve been playing against top 20 teams and playing them very close. I think we can definitely do it. We have the players to do it.”
Although the matches may be tough, the Badgers are hoping to use home court to their advantage. They enter play this weekend boasting an undefeated record at Nielsen Tennis Stadium.
“Illinois is one of the best teams in the country,” Michalicka said. “But we’re playing at home, so hopefully people come and hopefully we’ll play tough and fight. We practice every day on these courts, so we’re used to the surface and everything here.”
“I definitely think it’s an advantage,” Van Emburgh said. “I think the guys feel comfortable here playing at our place. When guys feel comfortable at home, sometimes they play a little bit better than they normally would.”
As they have been in a number of close matches this year, the Badgers know how important it will be to win the doubles competition to gain an early advantage.
“The doubles will be key to get that first point,” said Baumann.
Winning in doubles will be no easy feat, as Illinois comes in with two doubles teams nationally ranked. Ryan Rowe and Billy Heiser are ranked 22nd in the nation, while the tandem of Brandon Davis and Ruben Gonzales is ranked 32nd.
The Badgers are led by 49th-ranked Jeremy Sonkin and Luke Rassow-Kantor, as well as the duo of Baumann and Michalicka.
Wisconsin used its time off this week to focus on the basics and to get a little rest, which it hopes will benefit the team this weekend.
“The most important thing for us is keeping the guys fresh and healthy and letting them know the importance of every match,” Van Emburgh said. “It’s critical not to underestimate any match. It’s important that we take them one at a time. Saturday at noon versus Purdue is the most important thing for us to focus on right now. After that, hopefully we have some success there, and then we look into Sunday.”