Champaign, Ill. - Coming down to a third and decisive set on court two with the match tied at 3-all, the fifth-ranked Duke University men's tennis team dropped its first match of the season Friday evening against No. 25 Illinois, 4-3, at the Atkins Tennis Center. Duke falls to 5-1 on the season, while the Illini improve to 3-2.
"Credit to Illinois for stepping up in singles tonight," said head coach Ramsey Smith. "This loss hurts but I believe it will make our team tougher in the long run. It was an exciting college tennis environment and an experience that we can certainly learn from."
Illinois' Jared Hitzlik gained the early advantage over junior Fred Saba on the decisive court two singles match in the first set, 4-1. Saba, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was able to come from behind in the frame to take a 6-5 lead, before ultimately falling in a tiebreaker, 7-6 (4). The third-year player responded by taking the second set, 6-4, before Hitzlik, ranked 114th in the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings, clinched the 4-3 victory for Illinois, 7-6, 4-6, 6-3.
Senior Henrique Cunha, the 11th-ranked player in the rankings, overwhelmed Stephen Hoh in straight sets from the No. 1 position, 6-1, 6-2, while junior Chris Mengel earned Duke's second victory of the evening in singles, defeating Brian Page in the No. 5 spot in the lineup, 6-1, 7-5.
The Illini took the first singles point of the match on court three, as freshman Michael Redlicki dropped the first dual match of his Duke career against Tim Kopinski, 6-3, 6-2. The Blue Devils faced their first deficit this season, 2-1, after freshman Bruno Semenzato was defeated in his collegiate debut by Bruno Abdelnour, 6-0, 6-3, in the No. 4 position in the lineup. Sophomore Raphael Hemmeler dropped his first dual match of the season at the No. 6 spot against Ross Guignon, 6-2, 6-4.
In doubles, the tandem of Saba and Mengel, the 37th-ranked duo in the nation, claimed the first victory of the evening over Alex Jesse and Hitzlik on court three, 8-3. The top-ranked pair of Henrique Cunha and Hemmeler clinched the doubles point and continued Duke's undefeated streak in doubles from the No. 1 position over Abdelnour and Hoh of Illinois, 8-3. The pair extended their winning streak to 14 consecutive matches dating back to the fall.
The 39th-ranked duo of Redlicki and Tahir were down 6-5 in their match on court three against Illinois' Guignon and Kopinski before the match was left unfinished.
Up next, the Blue Devils will travel to South Bend, Ind., to face No. 30 Notre Dame on Sunday at noon.
Tennis Match Results DUKE vs Illinois Feb 01, 2013 at Urbana (Atkins) #25 Illinois 4, #5 DUKE 3