Illinois men’s tennis star Olivier Stuart brings confidence to postseason singles in first round of NCAA Tournament

Sidney Malone

Graduate student Olivier Stuart reaches out to return the ball during his singles match against Purdue on April 24. Stuart went 9-7 for his singles record this season.

Sunday afternoon’s standings for the NCAA Championship singles competition saw Illinois men’s tennis graduate student No. 59 Olivier Stuart take on Harvard’s No. 38 Henry von der Schulenburg in the round of 16.

Stuart’s regular season was one of Illinois’ best, posting a 9-7 singles record this season. In conference, the Frenchman earned second-team All-Big Ten honors for his notoriously strong singles play that has kept Illinois competitive in numerous tag team meets this season.

Even before conference play, however, Stuart has great performances on his resume. In the team’s first game of the season, Stuart faced Ohio State No. 9 Cannon Kingsley where he was tied at 6-6 (11-11) when the game was not finished. Stuart beat Oklahoma’s No. 37 Mason Beiler 6-2, 6-1 on ITA’s kickoff weekend early in the season and led Michigan’s No. 63 Andrew Fenty 7 -5, 3-2 at the time of the stoppage.

Although some of those matches went unfinished, they showed that Stuart could hang on to some of the best in the country. Stuart’s confidence heading into the playoffs was high.

“I’m pretty confident,” Stuart said after the last regular season home game. “I haven’t played very well, but it’s a huge confidence boost winning three games in a row. I’m excited to be going to the Big Tens and the NCAA championships.

Von der Schulenburg’s resume is just as impressive, if not more so, than Stuart’s. The Swiss international is 12-5 in singles play in the regular season, peaking in 17th place overall. Additionally, he helped the Harvard No. 14 reach the Round of 16 at the NCAA Championships, where he was beaten by Stanford, 4-3. Von der Schulenburg also beat Fenty in their regular season game 6-4, 6-1 before beating Penn No. 41 Edoardo Graziani 6-4, 6-4 later in the season.

With these matches in mind, Stuart and von der Schulenburg’s battle will be no mean one. If the two are playing by each other’s standards, Stuart’s two weeks off may give him an edge over von der Schulenburg’s week off since his NCAA championship appearance.

Zooming out of Stuart’s first-round game, TCU No. 12 Luc Fomba welcomes Stuart’s four-man block as the 9-16 seed that should make the Sweet 16. If the two win , Fomba and Stuart will meet in the round of 16. .

Stuart and Fomba faced off on Court 1 when the Illini hosted the Horned Frogs early in the season, and the match went unfinished, with Fomba narrowly leading late in the third set when the match was announced, 4- 6, 6-4, 4 -3. This performance by Stuart illustrates what he is capable of: competing with the best.

The graduate transfer has every reason to be confident ahead of Monday’s 5.30pm game. With a solid effort, Stuart has a solid draw to make a big run in the singles championship.

@DrewFriberg9

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