Men’s tennis looks for Illinois rematch

Jim Schortemeyer

While there are 10 teams at this weekend’s Big Ten men’s tennis championship, two are the clear favorites to win.
Illinois, which has been consistently ranked in the top 20 and finished with a perfect record, is the top seed. Minnesota, which finished the Big Ten season 9-1, likes to think it’s going to be the last team standing at the end of the three-day tournament.
“It’s definitely going to be emotional, because I think everyone is looking, everyone in the Big Ten is rooting for somebody to beat Illinois,” Minnesota’s Jorge Duenas said.
Illinois has owned the Big Ten title for three years. The Gophers almost earned the top seed in their match two weeks ago. They came within two points of beating the Illini before Illinois rallied.
“Anyone who knows anything about tennis says that Illinois was lucky to win that match,” Duenas said. “But it’s not my style to talk about it before the match. I just want to go out and play hard this weekend.”
The Gophers talk about the Illini loss in terms of character building. While Minnesota wasn’t able to meet its preseason goal of winning the regular season, a Big Ten tournament title is still well in reach.
“I don’t see it as a setback at all,” freshman Thomas Haug said. “Illinois was one of the top teams in the country when we lost to them.
“It gave us the confidence. We feel like we can beat any team in the country now.”
“We’re even more determined and angrier now,” Duenas added.
Duenas experienced a slump in the middle of the Big Ten season, but he says he and the rest of the Gophers are at the top of their games heading into the weekend tournament.
“I’d say I had a month there in the middle of the season where I had a couple of losses,” Duenas said. “I was sleeping a little there, and those losses woke me up a little.”
While the team may be ready, they are still young. Haug, the No. 1 singles player, is still a freshman, and there’s only one senior on the team.
Martin Michalowski, the aforementioned senior, is looking forward to the tournament.
“It’s the strongest team I’ve been on in four years,” Michalowski said. “It’s my senior year; I’d like to add a couple of rings, a Big Ten one and an NCAA regional one.”

Women’s tennis
The fourth-seeded Gophers start their Big Ten tournament this morning against fifth-seeded Iowa. Minnesota finished the regular season 7-3, and boasts Big Ten women’s tennis player of the month Kim Simonsen in its lineup.

Jim Schortemeyer is the sports editor and welcomes comments at [email protected]