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From the sports editors | Get ready for more tennis next week at Atkins | Sport




URBANA The outdoor courts of the Khan Tennis complex are often in use. The same goes for the indoor courts of the Atkins Tennis Center.

The home facility for the University of Illinois tennis teams will see another influx of promising talent next week as the third ITF World Tennis Tour event comes along this year.

The first tournament, the Fighting Illini Open, took place in mid-June. The Neitzel Family Open took place in late July and a third tournament, The Atkins Group Open, runs Monday through the following Sunday.

Veteran Illinois tennis coach Brad Dancer does not detract from these opportunities to host elite players on the UI home courts.

For us, it’s an opportunity to let people from across the country and around the world experience Champaign-Urbana, Dancer said. They eat in our restaurants, stay in our hotels and see the university grounds. His incredible exposure to our community and our university.

Qualifying starts on Monday for The Atkins Group Open, with the main draw starting on Tuesday in the singles field for 32 players and the doubles field for 16 teams.

Former Illini Zeke Clark is expected to play, and a host of other current Illini are expected to play as well.

Once our boys start playing we can’t be on the field with them anymore, Dancer said, but for our alumni who are full-time and on the go all year, it’s a chance to get back to where they have some familiarity with their surroundings.

The tournaments also help recruit Dancer and his staff as they can observe players up close while they are playing.

It’s versatile because when we host these events we have some of the best prospects coming in, Dancer said. It’s a recruiting catalyst for us, and it’s also an opportunity for boys when they’re in school to collect points for their rankings.

But Dancer doesn’t shy away from helping out during the tournament, citing the numerous volunteers needed to run an event of this magnitude.

I put water on a track if I have to. I’m not afraid to be the errand boy, Dancer said with a laugh. It’s all hands on deck.

Atkins and Khan are also scheduled to host the annual JSM Challenger, another pro tournament, later this fall before the Illinis season kicks off in earnest later this school year.

All of these events are also good preparation for what the facility will welcome next spring.

For the first time since 2013 and the second time ever on the UI campus, the top college teams and players will descend on Atkins and Khan from May 19-28, 2022 for the NCAA Championship.

We can’t wait, Dancer said. It is progressing well at the moment. We’ve already had a site visit with some NCAA officials next week and we’ve already started the process.

Danser wants one aspect to be considered differently next spring than in 2013. He wants his team to play in the event, which didn’t happen eight years ago after the Illini shyed away by losing in the Round of 32. With just eight teams. now making it to the NCAA Championships, Dancer realizes it will be an even tougher challenge, but he welcomes it.

When you’re a coach, you just think, ‘I have to make sure my team plays in that,’ said Dancer. All that pressure falls squarely on us in terms of what we need to do to get there. That’s exactly how coaches think, but whatever happens, it’s cool for our community to host these kinds of big events.

Matt Daniels is the sports editor at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-373-7422 or at [email protected]




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