April 29, 2007
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - After several years of losing to perennial conference power Illinois, the Ohio State men's tennis team has decidedly started a streak of its own, winning its second consecutive Big Ten Championship at the 2007 edition with a 4-1 defeat of the third-seeded Illini.
The teams have met six times in the event final since 1999, but the Buckeyes have claimed all five of their overall battles since ending the Illini's 55-match win streak in conference action during the 2006 regular season.
The teams took the courts at Purdue's Schwartz Tennis Center without a cloud in the sky for Sunday's championship final. Coming in, the Buckeyes had claimed the doubles point in 53 of their last 57 matches, while Illinois had only won once in the season (a 4-3 victory over Tennessee) without claiming the first team point. Both teams knew the match could hinge on the pairs play, and the competition on all three courts did not disappoint.
In the No. 3 match, Ohio State's Bryan Koniecko and Steven Moneke broke GD Jones' serve for an early 2-1 and did not relent. Serving for the match at 7-4, the Buckeyes had to fight through four break-point opportunities before a Koniecko backhand volley put away Illinois' Jones and Marc Spicijaric, 8-4.
Seconds later, Illinois' No. 2 tandem of Ruben Gonzales and Brandon Davis had a chance to serve for the match at 7-4. But Ohio State's 31st-ranked pair of Justin Kronauge and Drew Eberly fought back for a service break of their own to pull within 7-6. The Illini could not capitalize on its three match points, but finally proved the fourth time the charm when a Davis miss-hit drifted over the Buckeyes' heads and landed in to seal the victory at 8-6.
The crucial team point came down to the top match between Illinois' defending NCAA Champion pairing of Ryan Rowe and Kevin Anderson and Ohio State's No. 14 Devin Mullings and Chris Klingemann. The teams traded games early with the Buckeyes drilling from the baseline while Illinois' towering two-some stood ferocious from the net.
With a 6-5 lead, Ohio State racked up three break points against Rowe's serve, and the Illini net-play started to falter. The Buckeyes capitalized and earned a chance to serve out the match at 7-5, but Rowe and Anderson were not ready to relent. The Illini garnered a service break of their own, but the Buckeyes quickly tallied two break points on Anderson's serve. The Blue and Orange pair saved one, but Rowe couldn't handle Klingemann's next return, ending the match at 8-6 in favor of the Buckeyes.
In the teams' previous meeting this season, Ohio State swept Illinois, handing the Illini their first 7-0 shutout since suffering a similar setback in 1996 against Stanford. But the Blue and Orange were able to reverse that fate in the championship match with a convincing victory from seventh-ranked Anderson over Koniecko, the nation's No. 22 singles player.
In the No. 5 singles match, Klingemann raised the stakes for the Buckeyes with a straight-set win over GD Jones (6-4, 6-2) to push the Buckeyes back in the lead. On the neighboring court, Mullings followed just a few minutes later with a solid win of his own against Spicijaric (6-4, 6-2) to put the Scarlet and Gray within one point of clinching the title.
Meanwhile, the Illini looked poised for a comeback in the second sets of the remaining matches until Eberly, who won the first set handily over Illinois' Davis, went up a break to 4-3. Davis had a chance to regain control with a break point of his own but couldn't convert and Eberly clinched the team match for the second-straight day with a 6-2, 6-3 win.
The Illini, who advanced to the championship final for the ninth consecutive year, fell to 18-8 overall.
Ohio State improves to 27-1 with the win and receives the Big Ten's automatic bid to the NCAA Championship. The 2007 NCAA Championship selection announcements will take place Tuesday, May 1 at approximately 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPNEWS.