URBANA — The outdoor courts at the Khan Tennis Complex are often in use. Same for the indoor courts at the Atkins Tennis Center.
The home facility for the University of Illinois tennis teams will once again see an influx of promising talent on hand next week when the third ITF World Tennis Tour event this year stops by.
The first tournament, the Fighting Illini Open, happened in mid-June. The Neitzel Family Open took place in late July and a third tournament, The Atkins Group Open, will run from Monday through next Sunday.
Veteran Illinois men’s tennis coach Brad Dancer doesn’t discount these opportunities to host elite players on the UI home courts.
“For us, it’s a chance to have people from around the nation and around the world come and experience Champaign-Urbana,” Dancer said. “They’ll eat in our restaurants, stay in our hotels and see the university grounds. It’s incredible exposure for our community and our university.”
Qualifying begins on Monday for The Atkins Group Open, with the main draw set to begin play on Tuesday in the 32-player singles field and the 16-team doubles format.
Former Illini Zeke Clark is expected to play, with a host of other current Illini anticipated to play, as well.
“Once our guys start playing, we can’t be on the court with them anymore,” Dancer said, “but for our alumni that are playing full-time and on the road all year long, it’s a chance to go back to where they have some familiarity with their surroundings.”
The tournaments also help out recruiting purposes for Dancer and his staff since they can observe players up close while they’re playing.
“It’s multi-faceted, because when we host these events, we have some of the top prospects coming in,” Dancer said. “It’s a recruiting catalyst for us, and also, it’s an opportunity for guys when they’re in school to accumulate points toward their rankings.”
But Dancer isn’t shy about helping out during the tournament, and cited the numerous volunteers that are needed to help pull an event of this size off.
“I’ll set up water on a court 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 slated to host the annual JSM Challenger later this fall, another pro tournament, before the Illini’s own season begins in earnest later this school year.
All of these events are also good prep for what the facility will welcome in next spring.
For the first time since 2013 and the second time ever on the UI campus, the best college teams and players will descend upon Atkins and Khan for the NCAA Championship from May 19-28, 2022.
“We can’t wait,” Dancer said. “It’s progressing well at this point. We’ve got a site visit as early as next week with some NCAA officials, and we’ve already started the process.”
Dancer just wants one aspect to factor in differently next spring than it was in 2013. He wants his team to be playing in the event, which didn’t happen eight years ago after the Illini fell one match shy by losing in the Round of 32. With only eight teams making it to the NCAA Championships now, Dancer realizes it’ll be an even more difficult challenge, but he welcomes it.
“When you’re a coach, all you’re thinking is: ‘I’ve got to make sure my team is playing in it,’” Dancer said. “All that pressure falls squarely on us in terms of what we’ve got to do in order to get there. That’s just how coaches think, but no matter what, it’s cool for our community to get these types of big-time events.”
Matt Daniels is the sports editor at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-373-7422 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.