No. 15 Illini men’s tennis falters against No. 5 Virginia

By Alex Iniguez

After a hot 3-0 start to the season, the No. 15 Illini men’s tennis team hit a speed bump Friday night. In front of a raucous crowd at Boar’s Head Sports Club in Charlottesville, Va., Illinois was downed 6-1 by No. 5 Virginia on the same night former Cavalier great Somdev Devvarman was honored.

“I thought we prepared very well during the week,” Illini associate head coachGeorge Husack said. “Unfortunately, we were not ready to go when we stepped out on the court. We seemed a bit tentative, and Virginia is very good at home, just as we are.”

Illinois (3-1) was no match for Virginia (3-1) in doubles play. The doubles team of seniors Marc Spicijaric and Brian Livingston suffered its first loss of the season, 8-5, to Lee Singer and Drew Courtney. At the No. 2 position, the No. 27-ranked tandem of Dominic Inglot and Michael Shabaz were too much for Illinois’ freshmen duo of Ruan Roelofse and Dennis Nevolo, 9-8(3), as the Illini dropped the doubles point.

“We were up an early break,” Livingston said. “Then we played one bad game. I actually got overruled on a break point on a ball that must have been six inches out. We got overruled on it, and we couldn’t recover from it.”

In singles play, the Illini were once again outmatched from the start. All six Illinois players lost their first sets, and only two players managed to take their matches to three sets. Nevolo, ranked No. 41, put up a fight in his match against No. 11 Michael Shabaz before losing to the Virginia sophomore, 6-3, 6-7 (9), 6-4. In a match that saw the Illini capture only three sets all night, Czerwinski was the lone bright spot for the Orange and Blue, taking down No. 108 Drew Courtney, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 1-0 (10-5).

“I had a very slow start,” Czerwinski said. “In all of my matches so far this season, I’ve felt comfortable going in energy and mental focus-wise, but here I just felt a little bit flat from the get-go. In the tiebreakers, especially, I think I played some really good tennis. Those were the only moments I felt I was playing at the level I should be.”

The Illini have two weeks off before hosting three ranked teams, two in the same weekend. No. 35 Duke, No. 8 Tennessee and No. 10 Florida come to town to face Illinois and the loud Atkins Tennis Center crowd beginning Feb. 6. Two weeks off can leave a team stale, but the Illini have plenty of room for improvement in the next couple of weeks.

“I think the Virginia match gives our team, who is relatively inexperienced, a firsthand look at if we play like that, we’re not going to be very good,” Husack said. “We are good, deep and strong, so there is a lot to improve upon. I think that’s definitely something to learn from.”