URBANA, Ill. – The Fighting Illini debuted in front of the home crowd tonight for the first time in the NCAA Championships in the form of Jared Hiltzik, who began his run in the 64-man singles tournament. No. 32 Hiltzik downed No. 22 Adrien Puget from UCLA in a three-set thriller, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4.
"I think it was a nervous match for Jared," said Illinois head coach Brad Dancer. "He put a lot of emotional energy into the match. He battled through the physical discomfort and did a great job getting through that. Overall, he has to figure out how to play with great physical intensity while controlling the passion. Good win for Jared."
Hiltzik and Puget battled right away in the first set, holding serve all the way till 4-4. After back to back breaks, Puget pushed ahead to claim the set 7-5. Puget then continued to set the tempo, garnering the first two games of the second set.
"He was playing lights out," said Hiltzik. "Brad and I talked about a new game plan and I adapted pretty well to that. The second set i gained my composure and Brad and I got on the same page. It really helps to have a coach out there."
The change of game plan and adaptation proved beneficial. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year won the next six games to rally and take the second set 6-2.
In the third set, Hiltzik broke Puget early on to gain a 2-1 advantage, but the UCLA junior from France retaliated with a break of his own to even the score at 4-4. Then spirited by the home crowd, Hiltzik charged ahead and won the next two games to take the set 6-4 and the overall match.
"The whole match, the crowd was unbelievable, they got me through it," said Hiltzik. "I was hurting, I've cramped in the past, but the crowd pulled me through."
For Puget, it marked yet another tough loss in a 48-hour span. Just yesterday afternoon, Puget lost the decisive match to Mitchell Frank as Virginia downed UCLA to take the NCAA team championship.
"Really heartbreaking loss for him yesterday especially given the circumstances, and then have to come back and play against our crowd is a tough situation for him," said Coach Dancer.
Jared Hiltzik will continue his tournament run Thursday morning at 11 a.m. CT vs. the eight-seed Henrique Cunha from Duke. Cunha defeated Enej Bonin from Denver this afternoon 7-6(2), 6-2.