Illinois men’s tennis starts spring season with a bang

Wesley Fane The Daily Illini Illinois Marc Spicijaric returns the ball to Pepperdines Mahmoud Kamel during Saturdays match at Atkins Tennis Center. Spicijaric, defeated Kamel 6-2, 6-2.

Wesley Fane The Daily Illini Illinois’ Marc Spicijaric returns the ball to Pepperdine’s Mahmoud Kamel during Saturday’s match at Atkins Tennis Center. Spicijaric, defeated Kamel 6-2, 6-2.

By Alex Iniguez

With the spring semester beginning, the Illinois men’s tennis team passed its first exam of the season by drubbing No. 14 Pepperdine by a 6-1 margin Saturday evening at Atkins Tennis Center. The win followed victories in two matches Friday against Toledo and Ball State, mere homework compared to the fiery battle with the Waves.

The Illini came out strong in doubles play with a sweep in the three contests, paced by a quick win for the freshmen duo of Ruan Roelofse and Dennis Nevolo. The tandem topped Mahmoud Kamel and Alex Liompart, 8-5, to lead the way for the Orange and Blue. The senior pairing of Marc Spicijaric and Brian Livingston followed suit soon after, with an 8-3 win to secure the doubles point for Illinois. In a struggle of a match, Marek Czerwinski and Billy Heiser upset the No. 45-ranked duo of Omar Altmann and Bassam Beidas, 8-7 (5), to round out the doubles portion of the match.

“(Spicijaric and Livingston) are serving well,” Illinois head coach Brad Dancer said. “If they continue to serve well then they give themselves a good shot in the doubles. They’re both veterans, they’ve been around, so hopefully the moment won’t be too big for them.”

The Illini carried the energy from the doubles success into singles play as all six Illinois players won first sets. Nevolo and sophomore Roy Kalmanovich ran into roadblocks in the second set, but the four other Illini rolled to victory. Kalmanovich fought back to win in three sets, but Nevolo wasn’t as fortunate. Spicijaric, ranked No. 101 in singles, notched the most impressive win on the night by steamrolling No. 58-ranked Kamel, 6-2, 6-2.

“We had a tremendous amount of momentum,” Dancer said. “We weren’t able to narrow in and finish that match off the way we probably should have. We saw last year what happens when you don’t finish people off. There’s a lesson to be learned there.”

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    After winning the first set easily, 6-1, No. 23-ranked Kalmanovich struggled in the second set against No. 122 Beidas. Beidas reversed the score in the second set to even the match, but Kalmanovich, playing his first match at the No. 1 singles position, proved to be too much for the Pepperdine ace. Kalmanovich, who was ineligible to play until midway through last season, fought hard and came away victorious by a 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 mark. “I was down almost every game in the first set,” Kalmanovich said. “I somehow got a little lucky to win 6-1. I came out in the second set and didn’t pick up my level and got killed. In the third, I told myself, ‘I can’t just let things happen. I need to take things into my own control.'”

    Illinois (3-0) returned the favor against Pepperdine (1-1), avenging last season’s loss when the Waves narrowly defeated the Illini, 4-3, in Malibu, Calif. The Illini have another chance for redemption when they challenge No. 5 Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., on Friday night. The Orange and Blue lost a 4-3 heartbreaker in front of 1,200 fans at the Atkins Tennis Center last season.