Happy 26th birthday today to Illini tennis twins Melissa and Tim Kopinski. The siblings from Palos Heights and graduates of Chicago's Amos Alonzo Stagg High School were the first twins to play concurrently for Illinois' tennis program.
Melissa and Tim are the only two children of Polish immigrants Jan and Zofia Kopinski. They began playing tennis as toddlers and also played hockey together.
"They made us pick a sport we could both play with each other so we couldn't get bored," Melissa told The News-Gazette in 2013.
Melissa, a minute older than her "younger" brother, had a distinguished career for the Orange and Blue. As a senior in 2014-15, she was her team's Most Valuable Player and a two-time honoree as Big Ten Player of the Week. Her other senior-season awards included All-Big Ten and Academic All-Big Ten honors, UI's Fighting Illini Spirit Award, and the Midwest Region ITA/Arthur Ashe Jr. Sportsmanship and Leadership Award. Kopinski compiled a 74-54 career singles record (26-15 in Big Ten matches) and an 88-42 doubles mark (24-14 Big Ten).
In 2013, she earned All-America doubles laurels with partner Rachael White, advancing to the NCAA Championship quarterfinals. They ended that season ranked 15th nationally and No. 2 in the Midwest Region.
Melissa graduated from Illinois with a Bachelor of Science degree in community health in 2015. Immediately afterwards, she became a volunteer coach at Texas Tech, helping the Red Raiders win the Big 12 championship in 2017. Kopinski returned to her alma mater the following season, but now is a full-time assistant coach for the Red Raiders in Lubbock.
Tim had a similarly successful career at Illinois, winning All-Big Ten and All-America honors. Singles-wise, he was 108-56, including a fantastic 30-9 record in Big Ten matches. In doubles, he was 102-62 (27-11 Big Ten)
In his senior season, Kopinski was the Midwest ITA Senior Player of the Year and that organization's Sportsmanship and Leadership Award winner. With partner Ross Guignon, they ranked as high as No. 2 nationally and were the 2015 National Indoor Championships runner-up. Individually as a senior, he compiled a perfect 8-0 record in Big Ten singles play. Kopinski defeated the No. 23, 34, 41 and 64 players in matches that season.
Like his twin sister, Tim also was an Academic All-Big Ten honoree, studying kinesiology. He's in his fourth season on the professional tennis circuit and played the majority of this past season in Asia. In May of 2017, Kopinski and former Illini teammate Jared Hiltzik earned the doubles title at the Israel F6 Futures Tournament in Akko, Israel. During the off-season, Tim resides in Palos Hills and provides private lessons.
Today: Renee Slone, women's golf/coach
Monday: Jerry Hamner, football (51)
Tuesday: Jack Cornell, football (30)
Wednesday: Vanessa Flaherty, track & field (21)
Thursday: Bobby Mitchell, football (84)
Friday: Fred Cox, football (49)
Saturday: Brian Scott, football (42)
By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter@B1GLLL. His website is www.SportsLLL.com.