In its final home meet of the season, the Wisconsin men’s tennis team delivered an exuberant performance Sunday at Nielsen Tennis Stadium, but it wasn’t enough to compete with one of the best teams in the country.
Illinois, which came in as the third-ranked team in the U.S., proved to be too much for the young Badgers to handle. The Illini took all points in a shortened meet, ultimately triumphant by a score of 4-0.
“I thought we did a really good job in doubles today,” UW head coach Greg Van Emburgh said. “We played with great energy and enthusiasm, so I was excited to see that.”
Freshmen Josef Dodridge and Jose Maria Martin De Oliva Carranza performed valiantly to open doubles play, as the No. 76 pairing in the country facing the No. 60 pairing of Jared Hiltzik and Tim Kopinski of Illinois.
After taking the first game in all three of the doubles matches, the Badgers rallied to force point-for-point play in first and third doubles. Dodridge and Carranza narrowly lost by a margin of 8-5 while Lamar Remy and his partner John Zordani fell by the same score in their match.
“I thought we were really competitive in doubles and in a couple of singles spots,” Van Emburgh said. “We left a couple of matches on the court, and guys were fighting and competing in those spots. To give credit to Illinois, this is probably one of their best teams in 10 years, and they’re playing some great tennis right now.”
From then on, the charging Illini continued to hold off a Wisconsin team that tried to keep up.
Jakhongir Jalalov, Dodridge and Carranza each could not finish their singles matches resulting in DNFs for all three, in matches already squarely in Illinois’ favor.
Illinois followed up its doubles domination by sweeping the Badgers in singles play, winning all six matches and deflating a Wisconsin team that had hung around against a very talented Fighting Illini squad.
Of the singles matches that ran through to completion, the closest one was the No. 3 singles match between Illinois’ Kopinski and Wisconsin’s Alexander Kokorev.
Kopinski disposed of Kokorev relatively easily in the first set by a score of 6-1, but then Kokorev responded in set two. The second set was almost equal the entire way, and required a tie-breaker to eventually decide it.
Even the tie-breaker went down to the wire, but Kokorev couldn’t muster enough to take down Kopinski, as he fell 7-5 in the tie-breaker and 7-6 in the second set. That was the closest the Badgers would come in singles to a set victory though, as they lost the other singles matches in straight sets.
Not only are the Illini the No. 3 ranked team in Division I play, but they boast some of the best individual players in the nation as well. Sophomore Hiltzik currently sits as the No. 23 ranked player in America and was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school.
Hiltzik was the No. 1 player in the 2012 recruiting class and a 5-star, Blue Chip prospect. Coupled with the No. 56 Kopinski and No. 57 Aleks Vukic, Illinois’ rounded out line-up boasted too much strength for Wisconsin to handle, culminating in the lopsided match points-wise.
The loss pushed Wisconsin to 7-17 overall with just a 3-8 record in Big Ten play. However, the Badgers are looking at this season as a building block, and a very important one at that. With the Big Ten tournament approaching and five freshmen on the roster, these matches serve as learning experiences according to Van Emburgh.
“The guys are playing hard and looking to improve, and with the Big Ten Tournament next weekend, hopefully we can win some matches and look to stay competitive,” Van Emburgh said.
The final match of the home season also served as Senior Day for the lone Wisconsin senior Michael Sinha. But in the sixth singles match, Illinois’ Blake Bazarnik beat Sinha decisively, 6-1, 6-2.
Wisconsin looks to wrap up a difficult season this weekend in the Big Ten Tournament at Illinois, which starts this Thursday.