Hawkeyes Nearly Upset No. 4 Illinois

March 6, 2011

IOWA CITY – The University of Iowa men’s tennis team pushed No. 4 Illinois to the brink in the Big Ten opener, but the Fighting Illini rallied to thwart No. 73 Iowa’s upset plans with a 4-3 victory on Sunday.

It was Iowa’s (4-4 overall, 0-1 in Big Ten) first loss at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Center this season, as the fourth-ranked Fighting Illini (9-4, 1-0) overcame an early 2-0 deficit to snap Iowa’s three match winning streak with a victory in the final singles match of the evening.

“This is encouraging for our remaining Big Ten schedule, knowing we can take the fourth-ranked team in the nation down to the wire,” said head coach Steve Houghton. “The disappointing thing is we really had a legitimate chance to win this thing, but just didn’t quite pull it off.”

With the team score tied 3-3, junior Will Vasos had No. 65 Abe Souza on the ropes, but couldn’t quite take down the two-time returning All-Big Ten performer. Souza won 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.

In No. 2 singles, senior Nikita Zotov helped Iowa jump out to a 2-0 lead in the team score. Zotov knocked off Roy Kalmanovich 6-4, 6-2 to earn his fourth singles win of the season.

Sophomore Garret Dunn improved his singles record to 6-2 with a victory in the No. 6 singles position. Dunn defeated Illinois’ Bruno Abdelnour 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 to give Iowa a 3-2 lead, but the Fighting Illini won the final two singles matches to win the contest 4-3.

“Nick played great. That was one of his better matches, and it was against a good opponent,” said Houghton. “Garret keeps doing a great job for us in his position as well. I also thought Will played really well, and kept fighting.”

Iowa’s No. 1 and No. 2 doubles tandems rallied to claim their matches and conquer the doubles point for Iowa, who went up 1-0 after doubles for the third consecutive match dating back to the Western Michigan victory.

Illinois claimed the first doubles match in the No. 3 hole, but senior Austen Kauss and freshman Jonas Dierckx evened things up. The duo ran their doubles record to 3-0 on the season, but it didn’t come easy. After leading 2-0, Illinois’ Kalmanovich and Souza took a 6-4 lead. Iowa scored the next four points from there, however, as Kauss hit a near perfect serve on match point that wasn’t able to be returned in play.

With the doubles point all on the shoulders of junior Marc Bruche and Vasos, who were ranked No. 71 in the latest rankings, the duo didn’t disappoint. After trailing early by a 4-2 score, Iowa came storming back to take their first lead at 5-4. Iowa’s tandem held a 7-6 lead on match point when Illinois’ Connor Roth double faulted to give Iowa the lead. Bruche and Vasos now have a team high five doubles wins.

“It’s very rare to win a doubles point against Illinois. That is one of the things they are known for, so doubles was a strength today,” said Houghton. “Overall, I’m very proud of the effort.”

The Hawkeyes will begin a three-match road trip through the state of Florida for the next match, as Iowa faces Central Florida in Orlando on March 13th. Start time is 10 a.m.

No. 4 Illinois 4,No. 73 Iowa 3

Johnny Hamui (Illinois) def. Marc Bruche (IOWA) 6-2, 7-6 Nikita Zotov (IOWA) def. Roy Kalmanovich (Illinois) 6-4, 6-2 Abe Souza (Illinois) def. Will Vasos (IOWA) 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 Stephen Hoh (Illinois) def. Austen Kauss (IOWA) 6-3, 6-3 Garret Dunn (IOWA) def. Bruno Abdelnour (Illinois) 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 Connor Roth (Illinois) def. Jonas Dierckx (IOWA) 0-6, 6-2, 6-2

Doubles Bruche/Vasos (IOWA) def. Hoh/Connor Roth (Illinois) 8-6 Kauss/Dierckx (IOWA) def. Kalmanovich/Souza (Illinois) 8-6 Brian Alden/Hamui (Illinois) def. Dunn/Tom Mroziewicz (IOWA) 8-5