After a 1-1 record on the road at No. 2 Ohio State and Penn State in its first conference matches of the season, Illinois welcomes No. 6 Michigan, Michigan State and Butler to Atkins Tennis Center this weekend.
The team is happy to be back at home after almost a month of playing on the road. Head coach Brad Dancer spoke last week on how important a home court advantage can be in collegiate tennis.
“We love playing at Atkins,” Dancer said. “Anytime you go on the road, with all the travel logistics and everything else, it’s just not easy. The other team knows their building, they know their courts, they know all the nooks and crannies and so forth. It’s just not easy to win on the road. “
Friday marks the start of the week for the Illini. No. 6 Michigan has already taken down Illinois once this season in Ann Arbor, 4-1. After winning the doubles point, the Illini were swept.
The Wolverines have steadily been rising in rankings ever since this match, going on an incredible 9-0 run, taking down No. 2 Ohio State and No. 4 Baylor along the way. Illinois lost to both Ohio State and Baylor within the past month, meaning this match is likely the team’s hardest match of the weekend. Home court advantage could play a part in the Illini’s biggest upset of the season.
After a Saturday with no action, Sunday sees Illinois take on Michigan State next. The Spartans are 0-2 in the conference, losing close matches to Wisconsin and Nebraska last week. The last time these two played was over a year ago when the Illini swept the Spartans 7-0. With four returning members from the 7-0 win, the Illini have experience in taking down the Spartans. Similar to last week’s match against Penn State, this is a must-win match if Illinois wants to assert itself as a potential conference favorite.
The last match of the weekend sees the Butler Bulldogs travel to Atkins for the the Illini’s last non-Big Ten match of the season. The Bulldogs are currently on an impressive five-win streak, with a 9-7 record overall. The last time these two met was nearly 70 years ago, meaning no team will have the upper hand from the get go. While sporting a better record than the 7-10 Illini, the Bulldogs’ strength of schedule is far inferior to that of the Illini, as in just the past month the Illini have played five top-five ranked opponents. The Illini’s run of late has prepared them for new matchups, while refining their play along the way.
A win in all three matches this weekend would breathe more confidence into this steadily growing roster. With confidence on the rise and big matches under the Illini’s belt, this weekend could be a major point in the team’s season looking back in May.
Action returns to Atkins on Friday with the first match against No. 6 Michigan at 3 pm, followed by the matches against Michigan State at noon and Butler at 5 pm on Sunday.