After opening the season with a pair of wins against non-conference competition last Saturday, the 18th-ranked North Carolina men's tennis team travels to Champaign, Ill. this weekend to play in the 2013 Intercollegiate Tennis Association Kick-Off Weekend. The winner of the Illinois regional will advance to the ITA Team Nationals next month in Seattle, Wash.
On paper this event looks to be the toughest of all the regionals as all four teams land inside the Top 25 in the ITA Men's College Tennis Rankings. This site will more than likely feature the most competitive team matches of all the sites during ITA Kick-Off Weekend.
No. 16 Illinois will have a new look this year with Dennis Nevolo and Roy Kalmanovich both gone, leaving the top two spots in the singles lineup vacant. The Fighting Illini will turn to Tim Kopinski to fill the void at first singles after recording a 10-5 record in the fall. The No. 19 Tennessee Volunteers will look upset Illinois on the Illini's home courts in the first round behind No. 9 Mikelis Libietis. Tennessee returns five of their six starters from 2012 and with the addition of transfer John Collins, the Volunteers will look to build on last year's success.
A win by Tennessee along with a win by North Carolina would set up a rematch of last year's NCAA second round match which was won by the Tar Heels 4-0 in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels are looking strong again this year as they feature their top four singles players in the Top 110 of the ITA rankings as well as a doubles team in the Top 50. Esben Hess-Olesen is North Carolina's top guy, recording a 10-5 record and a No. 18 ranking. Altogether, Coach Sam Paul's team is counting on an infusion of new talent as only three of last year's singles starters are back for the 2013 campaign.
North Carolina will not have a cakewalk to the finals by any means as they square off against No. 24 Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane have five of their six starters back this year including their No. 1 singles player Japie De Klerk, who is 34th in the nation. De Klerk is joined in the national spotlight by Alejandro Espejo who will be playing No. 3 for Tulsa and is ranked 69th. UNC defeated the Golden Hurricane 5-2 in Tulsa last year in regular-season play.