Andre Ilagan closed out the most decorated run in University of Hawaii men’s tennis history with a three-set loss to Ohio State freshman Alexander Bernard in the NCAA Men’s Singles Championship on Wednesday in Orlando, Florida.
But the Farrington graduate made one last push before exiting the 64-man field in the round of 16.
Ilagan’s first set on the outdoor courts at the USTA National Campus passed too quickly, her stay in the group hinged on a tiebreaker in the second.
“The only thing I thought was: ‘I’m going to go out dancing,’” Ilagan said in a Zoom session with local media. “I’m going out to play ‘Andre tennis’. ”
Ilagan outpointed Bernard on the tiebreaker to extend the match and broke at 4-3 in the third set. Bernard won a pivotal play with a cross shot en route to earning a break, held serve to advance, then forced a deciding point on Ilagan’s serve. Another lengthy rally ended with Ilagan’s shot finding the net and Bernard advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-7 (3), 6-4 win.
“I’m glad I had a chance to be up 4-3 in the third, but it raised its level. I have to give him credit,” Ilagan said.
Ilagan closed his fifth year in the UH program with an overall singles record of 69-29, including an 18-4 streak this season and ended a 17-game winning streak on Wednesday.
Being the first UH player to qualify twice for the NCAA individual championship, he became the first Rainbow Warrior to win a game at the event and added to his list of accomplishments by earning NCAA All-America status. Intercollegiate Tennis Association, another first for the program. when he reached the round of 16.
Ilagan said that helping the Warriors win a Big West team title “was the first thing I wanted in my five years. But I guess from my individual praise I can say I didn’t do too badly.”
Ilagan earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament as the Big West’s highest-ranked player at 65th in the nation and became the first player from the conference to reach the Round of 16 since 2013 and only the second since 1989.
They defeated high-ranking players from Michigan and Texas after rain forced their first two games to be played indoors. Ilagan said it took him a while to adjust to the conditions when the weather allowed for outdoor play.
“In the first set I was taking the ball very early, running most of the time,” Ilagan said. “Obviously a little nervous at first. In the second I began to accommodate myself ”.
Bernard, ranked No. 41 in the nation, finally won the southpaw duel and will face Virginia’s Chris Rodesch in the quarterfinals today. Virginia swept Ohio State in the team finals on Sunday.
Ilagan said he plans to take a day off before resuming his professional career. He will remain in Florida, where he will continue training before entering professional tournaments later this summer.
“Depending on how well it goes, it could be for quite a while,” Ilagan said of staying on the mainland.
“As we say, this is the life of tennis, home is all over the world. So I think that’s the new ride I’m on right now.”
With that being said, she hopes to continue representing Hawaii in her tennis career.
“I hope to inspire the people back home and the people who come to the show,” he said. “I hope this helps build men’s tennis in the future. I wish coach Joel (Kusnierz) and the program the best… and I want to see someone else do it and someone do it better than me, to be honest.”