URBANA (WCIA) — The success of Illini tennis is relevant from Champaign all the way to London. This week, some of the up and coming stars of the sport are in Champaign for the USTA Fighting Illini Open.
“I’ve been playing a few of these tournaments this summer and this week will be special because it’s on our home courts so I can use that kind of as my advantage,” Illinois junior Aleks Kovacevic said. “I know these courts well, better than these other guys here.”
“Everybody around the community and teammates get to watch you and it’s just such a huge advantage playing on your home courts,” Illinois sophomore Alex Brown added.
Most of the players in the draw this week will turn pro soon, if they haven’t already, but for the Illini guys, they prefer the college game to this week’s individual tournament.
“Playing in a dual match, there’s nothing like it,” Illinois junior Zeke Clark said. “Playing with 1,000 people watching you, behind you for every single point, it’s definitely different.”
For those three current players: Aleks Kovacevic, Alex Brown, and Zeke Clark, this week allows them to learn more about themselves and what they need to improve on. But for Aron Hiltzik, tennis is now his job. The recent grad is 2-5 in singles matches as a pro, playing everywhere from Portugal to Israel.
“Before it was a lot of school, a lot of tennis,” Hiltzik said. “Now it’s just tennis so it’s just a new process that I’m learning.”
Hiltzik’s former teammate Aleks Vukic won this tournament last season, something one of these Illini guys hope to continue this week.