CHAMPAIGN — Talk about a whirlwind of emotions.
And that was before Ross Guignon flung his tennis racket 20 feet in the air, chucked his hat across Court No. 6 at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex and ripped off his orange Illinois T-shirt.
Guignon and the rest of the Illinois men’s tennis team completed an epic comeback Saturday, defeating Memphis 4-3 during a second-round NCAA tournament match and advancing to the round of 16 for the 11th time in the past 13 seasons.
Illinois awaits either Baylor or Tulsa at 11 a.m. Friday in Athens, Ga. Those two teams play at 2 p.m. Sunday in Waco, Texas.
A trip to Georgia was probably the furthest thing from the minds of the Illini and coach Brad Dancer with the sun out in full force Saturday afternoon.
By the time the shadows descended and Saturday evening rolled around after the nearly four-hour match ended, however, it was at the forefront.
“Words cannot really describe it,” Illinois’ Jared Hiltzik said. “That was pretty amazing.”
Hiltzik closed out the match with his win at No. 1 singles, the last match of the day. Which didn’t seem likely.
Not after Illinois lost the doubles point. Not after Illinois lost five first sets in singles. After it dropped its first two singles matches to trail the Tigers 3-0.
Hiltzik kept the match going, fending off two match points when he trailed 5-3 in the second set against Connor Glennon.
Once he did that, the Wilmette native won 10 of the next 11 games against Glennon — who was fighting cramps in the third set — to keep the Illini’s season going.
“I know it was looking really bad,” Hiltzik said. “My team is unbelievable. We fight through the end, and it showed” Saturday.
Before Hiltzik collapsed in utter joy after his win, the left-handed Guignon grinded his way to a three-set win. When the last point of his match sailed long, Guignon let loose with a spontaneous celebration.
“While we play, we try to stay really dialed in and not let the (excitement) level get too high,” Guignon said. “Brad says, ‘Let it unleash when you win.’ I was just excited and living in the moment.”
Dancer hasn’t seen his team lose in any 13 of its matches this season at home. The last one will certainly leave an indelible impression on those who witnessed it, including a strong showing of Illinois fans.
“There’s nothing like playing here,” Dancer said. “The crowd was fantastic. Our guys love these courts. We’ve been on the bad ends of some breaks this year, and that was just plain, downright lucky. We were lucky to get through, and it feels good to be lucky.”
Illinois needed gutsy efforts from nearly everyone Saturday to rally for a 4-3 win against Memphis. Here’s three who stood out:
Ross Guignon, junior
The epitome of a fiery player, Guignon (left) doesn’t have the most overpowering serve. But his presence on the court alone is a big reason why he was able to win his singles match, which drew Illinois into a 3-3 tie against Memphis.
Tim Kopinski, junior
Someone has to pick up the first win. The Palos Hills native did just that, earning a three-set win at No. 3 singles that culminated with a 6-0 victory in the third set.
Blake Bazarnik, junior
The No. 4 singles player was battling injuries all week, but he heeded coach Brad Dancer’s advice and stayed aggressive, eventually closing out a 2-6, 6-0, 7-5 win that cut Memphis’ lead to 3-2.