Asmussen: Dream doubles team

Winning combinations.

Peanut butter and jelly. Baskin and Robbins. Milk and cookies (chocolate chip, please).

Tim Kopinski and Ross Guignon haven’t reached the tip-top of college tennis, but they are working toward it.

The Illinois doubles partners have already earned All-America status. And they have earned a berth in the NCAA doubles tournament at Athens, Ga.

First, they have some team business to attend to this weekend at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex. Illinois hosts first- and second-round NCAA matches Friday and Saturday. The Illini open against Ball State and hope to play the winner of Drake and Memphis on Saturday.

Two wins and the team makes a return trip to the NCAA Championships. If it happens, count on the law firm named Guignon and Kopinski being a big part of it.

Illinois coach Brad Dancer put Guignon and Kopinski together early in their careers. Smart move.

“Chemistry is a huge part of doubles tandems,” Dancer said. “It’s one of the most enjoyable teams I’ve ever been able to coach.

“They seemed to be scared of no one from the very beginning.”

They are different off the court. Guignon is an extrovert. Kopinski is more reserved.

“I kind of keep to myself,” Kopinski said. “Ross is a little bit more flamboyant, kind of loud. He has a more outgoing personality.”

They make it work.

“It’s a great definition of yin and yang,” Dancer said. “Just in terms of their personalities.”

Talking points

You can’t play successful doubles without being able to communicate. Guignon and Kopinski have figured that part out.

“For us, it’s huge,” Guignon said. “We’re not afraid to say, ‘If you’re going to hit that serve, you need to hit it harder or with more spin.’ Constructive criticism. I think that’s a necessity.”

“They are looking for the positives all the time,” Dancer said. “They bring out the best in each other. They have a lot of trust in each other.”

Guignon and Kopinski avoid the arguments you might expect from longtime teammates. They poke fun at each other. Not in a mean way.

Kopinski might point out the struggles of Kansas City-area sports teams. That’s where Guignon grew up.

“He’ll make jokes if I say something Kansas-ish,” Guignon said.

There’s less of that the other way. Not much Guignon can say to Chicago native and Blackhawks fan Kopinski.

Physically, there are some similarities (neither is over 6 feet) and some differences (Guignon is a lefty, Kopinski a righty).

They always had talent. But it had to develop over time. They needed work on their serving, volleying and return game.

“It’s really been about their skill evolvement that has turned them into an elite team,” Dancer said.

There was no magic. No shortcuts. They got bigger and stronger. They matured emotionally.

Even last fall, Dancer still saw them playing like underdogs. To take the next step, they needed to start playing “with swagger.”

“I think that’s been hard for them because they don’t have huge games, and they’re not overly powerful,” Dancer said. “I think the fall was a good time for them in terms of real confidence development. Not like, ‘I think we can.’ They were beating good teams consistently.”

On the go

In the spring they have piled up wins against good teams.

There is room to grow. Their work ethic helps.

“They’ve had to take a lot of teams’ best shots this year,” Dancer said.

The success this year, plus their preparation, makes them a threat to win the NCAA doubles title.

“Serving and returning, that’s all it comes down to,” Dancer said. “If they serve well, they are competitive with anybody. They move well, and they are going to be active. We call them waterbugs. They are all over the court.”

They would like to match another Illini doubles team: Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe. They won an NCAA title and are the gold standard.

Someday soon, Anderson and Rowe could be joined by Guignon and Kopinski.

Whether it happens, Guignon and Kopinski will remain good friends. They have been roommates for years and have already lined up a lease for their senior year.

“That will be four years living together,” Guignon said. “We get along great. We spend time together. We train together. We eat, sleep and breathe tennis.”

Given a chance to diss his roommate, Kopinski can’t come up with much.

“He does like blasting music in our apartment,” Kopinski said. “New pop hits. Not great music.”

Doesn’t sound like a deal breaker. They are both excited to get back on the court. And to take a shot at winning a national title.

Bob Asmussen writes Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He can be reached at 217-351-5233 or at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

Sections (3):Illini Sports, Sports, Tennis

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