NCAA Tennis 6902

Illinois’ Zeke Clark returns a serve during a singles match against California in the second round of the NCAA 2019 D1 Men’s Tennis Championship at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex Saturday, May 4, 2019, on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana.

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Monday marks the start of the $25,000 Neitzel Family Open — an International Tennis Federation event — at Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex, running through July 28. Illinois men’s coach Brad Dancer discusses what’s on tap:

Is this the same tournament as the old Car-X Futures events held in Champaign-Urbana?

This is a Futures event. The only reason we didn’t call it that is there’s a naming change right now. At the moment, they’re not calling them Futures events.

Which of your current and former Illini athletes will be competing?

Alumni Aron Hiltzik and current players Zeke Clark, Aleks Kovacevic, Alex Brown, Gui Gomes, Vuk Budic, Lucas Horve, Siphosothando Montsi and Kweisi Kenyatte (a recent transfer).

What is the field size?

There’s 32 in the main singles draw and 32 in the qualifying, so 64 total. There’s a 16-team doubles draw.

What does a tournament like this offer your guys?

It’s awesome in many ways. Number one, we get all these cultures ... coming to Champaign, getting exposure to our awesome community. And then, number two, it’s a chance for our guys to play on their home court against top-class competition and test themselves against some of the best players in the world. Not only are we getting opportunities for our student-athletes, but we’re getting exposure, Champaign-Urbana’s getting exposed to people from Russia and Australia, China, Japan and every other country you can think of.

How does this event compare to your in-season showcases?

It’s interesting. At this point, almost all of our guys have some professional experience. Kweisi, this is his first pro event, so I’m excited to see how he handles the situation. Other than that, all these guys have been in events before, so I think the biggest thing for them, it’s no longer just dipping your toes in. It’s starting to produce some results.

How has the summer been progressing for your athletes?

I feel great about where we’re going as a team. And then, at the same time, it’s never good enough. Zeke has certainly led the way this summer. ... Kova made his first quarterfinal, and he’s played in some higher-level events. So those guys are doing that, and AB’s had some good wins. I think the biggest thing for us is Vuk Budic got his first professional points. Gui Gomes got his first professional points. Those are big breakthroughs for those guys. When you look at Lucas and Kweisi, those guys getting back on the computer and getting their world ranking established, I think that’s going to be really important and hopefully they can do that.

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).