Top-ranked Illinois (15-0) Cruises Past No. 5 Cal (12-2), 6-1
March 25, 2003
Berkeley, Calif. - Six players ranked in the nation's Top 50, a combined 26 wins and one loss, and the country's No. 1 and No. 5 men's tennis teams. We had all that and more this afternoon at the Hellman Tennis Center in Berkeley, as No. 1 Illinois shut down No. 5 California, 6-1, in a match that was much closer than the final score.
The Fighting Illini broke open a 1-0 lead by taking two of the three doubles matches to earn the point. The nation's No. 5-ranked doubles tandem of Amer Delic and Michael Calkins took to court No. 2 to face Patrick Briaud and Or Dekel, playing together for the first time. The Illinois duo took leads of 2-0 and 4-1 before cruising to a relatively easy 8-2 win.
Back in action on court one was Cal's senior combination of Steve Berke and Robert Kowalczyk vs. No. 28 Rajeev Ram and Brian Wilson. Down 3-4 with Kowalczyk serving, the Bear duo was facing triple break point, but was able to rattle off three consecutive points to tie the match at 4-4. The crucial point of the match came with Cal down 4-5 and Berke serving for the tie. The Illini were able to break Berke's service to take the 6-4 lead, and ultimately the 8-5 decision and the doubles clincher.
There was certain bit of consolation for the Bears on court No. 3, with the European duo of Mik Ledvonova and Conor Niland putting in a gritty performance against Phil Stolt and Chris Martin. The Cal tandem fell behind 1-4 early, but managed to tie the match at 5-5, then again at 8-8 to force the tiebreaker. In extra play, Ledvonova and Niland fell behind 0-1 early, but again managed to come back - this time for the victory, 9-8, (8-3).
On the singles courts, an unfamiliar sight appeared early on. On courts one through five, all five Illinois players opened up 1-0 leads in what was beginning to spell disaster for the Bears. The long awaited return of senior captain John Paul Fruttero to singles play did not fare as well as expected. Facing No. 14 Rajeev Ram, arguably the toughest member of the Illini team, in his first match back from wrist surgery, Fruttero was outplayed from the start. Ram picked apart Cal's All-American for the 6-2, 6-2 final to spoil Fruttero's return to the lineup and hand Illinois the 2-0 lead. On court No. 5, Berke and No. 103 Calkins were engaged in a heavyweight battle all the way to the bitter end. After dropping the first set, 3-6, Berke jumped out to the 1-0 lead in the second and a then a 4-4 tie with the service. But in what was becoming an all too familiar sight, Calkins broke the service and went on to win 6-3, 6-4 for Illinois' third point of the afternoon.
The clincher came on court No. 1 in a match between No. 38 Niland and his counterpart No. 8 Stolt. Niland seemed to be in control early on, taking a 5-3 lead with some masterful play. Stolt reached deep into his bag of tricks and pulled out two service breaks to claim the next four games for the 7-5 first set. Disheartened and possibly outpowered, Niland fizzled in the second set, handing the Fighting Illini its 15th victory of the season in a 7-5, 6-2 loss.
With the match already in hand, the war was still being waged on courts three, four and six. On No. 4, the 41st-ranked Kowalczyk and No. 9 Wilson were deadlocked 5-5 in the third set, while on three, Dekel and No. 5 Delic were deadlocked at 5-5 in the second set. On No. 6, Ledvonova and No. 74 DeHeart were still battling in a tightly contested second set. After taking a 4-2 lead in the third set, Kowalczyk was in control of his own destiny. But a three-game run from Wilson took the gas out of the feisty Kowalczyk, ending in a 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 victory for the Illini. On three, Dekel maintained a two game lead as well (5-3), but also faltered in losing three straight for the 6-3, 7-6 defeat to Delic.
The saving grace for the Cal team was their hottest player Mik Ledvonova, whose 11-match win streak is tops on the team. The sophomore from Denmark avoided the sweep with his 7-5, 4-6, 1-0 victory over DeHeart, to claim his 12th win in a row.
Cal returns to action Friday, March 28 as the Bears open Pac-10 competition vs. Oregon at 1:30 p.m. at the Student Tennis Center in Eugene.
SINGLES1. No. 8 Phil Stolt (ILL) d. No. 38 Conor Niland (Cal), 7-5, 6-22. No. 14 Rajeev Ram (ILL) d. John Paul Fruttero (Cal), 6-2, 6-23. No. 5 Amer Delic (ILL) d. Or Dekel (Cal), 6-3, 7-64. No. 9 Brian Wilson (ILL) d. No. 41 Robert Kowalczyk (Cal), 6-1, 3-6, 7-55. No. 103 Michael Calkins (ILL) d. Steve Berke (Cal), 6-3, 6-46. Mik Ledvonova (Cal) d. No. 74 Ryler DeHeart (ILL), 7-5, 4-6, 1-0
DOUBLES (Illinois wins doubles point)1. No. 28 Ram/Wilson (ILL) d. Berke/Kowalczyk (Cal), 8-52. No. 5 Calkins/Delic (ILL) d. Briaud/Dekel (Cal), 8-23. Ledvonova/Niland (Cal) d. Martin/Stolt (ILL), 9-8