“Hollywood” adds some flair to UI tennis

Freshman Dennis Nevolo practices at the Atkins Tennis Center Tuesday afternoon. Erica Magda

Freshman Dennis Nevolo practices at the Atkins Tennis Center Tuesday afternoon. Erica Magda

By Alex Iniguez

They call him “Hollywood.”

But to people outside the Illinois tennis program, he’s better known as Dennis Nevolo, the state’s top incoming freshman.

The nickname didn’t come about without a little help from senior Marc Spicijaric.

“Our strength trainer, myself and Marek (Czerwinski) were lifting,” Spicijaric said. “We were doing something, waiting on Dennis. He was just standing alone, not doing anything and just looking up, completely in his own little world. Then he just walked over very nonchalantly, you know, like he’s in Hollywood.”

Born in Valencia, Calif., Nevolo lived about 35 miles from Los Angeles.

    Subscribe to our sports newsletter!

    So for his first three years, geographically speaking, the nickname was fitting.

    Nevolo moved from California to Massachusetts and stayed there for seven years before settling in Gurnee, Ill., where he’s been for the last 10 years.

    The freshman said he immediately felt comfortable at his in-state school after taking a visit.

    “I instantly got a good feel for the school,” Nevolo said. “It’s a great campus. The tennis program is obviously what attracted me the most. (Head coach) Brad (Dancer) is a great coach and there’s a great group of guys here. I’ve liked it a lot so far, I’m just trying to do a good job of managing schoolwork, tennis and my social life.”

    He’s not alone in his adjustment. Nevolo’s roommate is fellow freshman Ruan Roelofse.

    “Me and Ruan have a great relationship,” Nevolo said. “We get along really well. I’m really happy I’m rooming with him, and I’m really happy he’s here.”

    And of course, there’s playful banter between the two freshmen, especially with Roelofse weighing in at 200 pounds – about 50 more than Nevolo.

    “We have nicknames,” Nevolo said. “He’s ‘Papa Lion’ and I’m ‘Baby Lion.’ That’s just what it’s come to. He’s got a few pounds on me.”

    The two have battled three times this season, including last weekend’s final of the Racquet Club Collegiate Invitational in Midland, Texas. Roelofse came out on top with a 6-4, 7-6 (6) victory.

    One could probably guess whether Nevolo believes he’ll take down Roelofse the next time the two face off.

    “Absolutely,” Nevolo said with a smile.

    Smiling is all Nevolo has done since he’s been here, it seems. Spicijaric and other teammates love to goof around at the freshman’s expense.

    “He’s been great,” Spicijaric said. “He’s been a great addition to the team tennis-wise and off the court, same thing. He’s a good kid – a gullible kid. It’s really easy to mess with him.”

    Even the coaches like his personality, not to mention his tennis game.

    Assistant coach George Husack described Nevolo’s play thus far as “spectacular.”

    “Dennis is quite a character,” Husack said. “He’s got a lot of hair on his head. For him, life seems to be pretty casual and cool. Things just kind of fall into place.”