© Colette Lewis 2007--
Until the Illinois - Oklahoma State match Friday evening, there wasn't much drama at the ITA Men's Team Indoor. The No. 6 seeded Illini got the win but it took them three hours to finally subdue No. 11 Oklahoma State 4-2.
As the host school, Illinois received the prime 6:30 p.m. time slot and their fans all gathered on the main set of courts at the Midtown Tennis club for the doubles point, which Illinois took with wins by No.1s Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe and No. 3s GD Jones and Marc Spicijaric.
Then as the singles split between two separate areas of the club, so too did the fans divide themselves. As I usually do, I watched the No. 1 singles, and was impressed by Oklahoma State's new No. 1, freshman Oleksandr Nedovyesov of the Ukraine, who gave Anderson a severe test before the junior from South Africa took the match 6-4, 6-4. Anderson's serve was the difference; the few times he faced break points he served his way out of it, while he pounced on the two opportunities Nedovyesov offered.
By the time Anderson had won, Rowe had already made quick work of Ivan Puchkarov at No. 2 and Illinois had a 3-0 lead.
But the Cowboys got a point at No. 5, and with a big lead at No. 3, the attention was focused on the two close matches in the adjacent courts, where Illinois' Ruben Gonzales (4) and Brandon Davis (6) had fought back to even their matches after dropping their opening sets.
Playing on side by side courts, Gonzales and Dmytro Petrov of Oklahoma State battled evenly through much of the third set, while neither Davis nor his opponent Artsem Burmistrau could establish any comfortable lead. As the loud cheers of the Illini fans echoed throughout the building, Gonzales and Petrov moved to a third set tiebreak, with Oklahoma State needing to win it to stay in the match.
By this time No. 3 Daniel Byrnes had defeated GD Jones, so all the action, fans, coaches and teammates were gathered around the two courts. The exhortations and encouragement never stopped, and it reached a fever pitch during the tiebreak. When a service winner by Gonzales gave him two match points at 6-4, the rhythmic clapping began, and although he didn't convert the first, on the second Petrov missed a volley just wide, and both players fell to the ground in a heap--Gonzales with joy and Petrov in agony.
So exuberant were they after the win, the Illinois team gathered to serenade the crowd with a spontaneous version of the Illinois fight song, as a way of acknowledging the importance of the support they received.
Illinois will take on UCLA Saturday evening, as the No. 3 Bruins defeated No. 14 Miami 4-1 in Friday night's final match.
For complete details on all eight matches, see the official tournament web page.
Friday, February 16, 2007