Illini men’s tennis narrowly misses perfect weekend

Illinois Dennis Nevolo prepares to hit the ball Tuesday against Illinois Alumni Kevin Anderson. Nevolo lost to anderson in two sets.

Illinois’ Dennis Nevolo prepares to hit the ball Tuesday against Illinois Alumni Kevin Anderson. Nevolo lost to anderson in two sets.

By Alex Iniguez

Marc Spicijaric found himself in a familiar position Saturday, down a set to Tennessee’s Davey Sandgren. The Illini senior dug in and prepared himself for a three-set match, his second of the weekend. Spicijaric, ranked No. 101, battled with Sandgren, eventually outlasting his Volunteer foe in a gutsy match, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5.

“I fought well,” Spicijaric said. “I don’t think I struck the ball as well as I could’ve, but I fought hard (Saturday). The guy served the ball well, but I feel like once he gave me a chance in his serve games I took advantage of it.”

Despite Spicijaric’s efforts and an electric atmosphere at Atkins Tennis Center, No. 13 Illinois (4-2) could not muster enough firepower to overcome the loss of the doubles point, as No. 8 Tennessee (5-0) downed the Illini by a slim 4-3 margin.

The Illini were led by freshman Dennis Nevolo’s stellar performance at the No. 1 singles position. Nevolo, playing his second dual match at the No. 1 spot, steamrolled No. 50 John-Patrick Smith, 6-2, 6-4. Nevolo, ranked No. 41, bounced back to easily defeat Smith after retiring because of dehydration Friday night. His win paced the Illini comeback attempt.


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Men take loss; women win

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“(Friday) I was playing great,” Nevolo said. “So it was kind of a bummer when the dehydration hit me. I really couldn’t keep going, so (Saturday) it was all about keeping my composure and continuing to play well. I played equally well in both matches, and I was just able to keep that level up against Tennessee.”

Nevolo’s withdrawal Friday night could have been the difference-maker in the final score, but the Illini were quick to shut the door against No. 36 Duke. The home team secured a 5-2 victory in front of another large, raucous crowd in Urbana.

Senior Brian Livingston grinded out a win against Duke’s David Holland, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, to clinch the win for Illinois. Spicijaric thrilled the crowd with a three-set triumph that included a 22-point tiebreaker in the second set against Jared Pinsky.

“I’m proud of our guys,” Illinois head coach Brad Dancer said. “Tennessee’s a really good team and they played well. Give them some credit for playing in a really tough place to play. At the same time, I’m proud of the way our guys competed this weekend. If you keep this level as our standard, you just get exponentially better.”

After a split weekend, the Illini will change their focus to Tuesday, when No. 7 Florida comes to town. Last season, the Gators defeated then-No. 9 Illinois in Florida.