Illini men’s tennis comes from behind to top No. 7 Florida

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By Alex Iniguez

Last season, the Illinois men’s tennis team didn’t win a match without the doubles point until the NCAA Tournament. The No. 13-ranked Illini accomplished that feat much earlier this season, with a 4-3 win against No. 7 Florida on Tuesday night at Atkins Tennis Center.

“It’s important to do,” Illinois head coach Brad Dancer said. “Not that we want to keep going out and losing doubles points, but I think it’s important to have that resiliency in your mind that you can come back and do that. I’m proud of the way our guys played tonight.”

The Orange and Blue (5-2) fought hard in doubles play against the Gators (5-1) but could only manage to win one match in the opening portion of the match. Junior Marek Czerwinski and senior Marc Spicijaric, two of the team’s most consistent players so far, teamed to take down Antoine Benneteau and Joey Burkhardt, 8-3. Dancer changed up the doubles lineups for the match, but the Illini couldn’t make it work.

“Our doubles has been nothing short of pathetic,” Dancer said. “It’s mental now at this point. We had a great crowd here tonight, and then we sucked the energy right out of the building. We’re fearful, we’re scared, we don’t hit shots, we don’t finish points, we don’t do the things we practice and we don’t play like we’re capable of playing. I was so excited for the changes in the combinations for tonight. And then we come out and see us just wilt under the pressure.”

Luckily for Dancer, Illinois came out firing in singles play. Right from the start, the Illini looked focused, as they have in the past few singles portions. Every first set was close, with the exception of No. 101-ranked Spicijaric and junior Meedo El Tabakh, who rolled over junior Daniel Cash, 6-2, 6-3. Spicijaric won a quick two-set match against Benneteau, 6-3, 6-3. The senior’s previous two matches were three-set nail-biters, so this match was a walk in the park.

“I guess it’s good to know that if I can beat a guy quick, then I’ll beat him quick,” Spicijaric said. “But if I need to go and play a longer match, then I’ll be able to.”

While El Tabakh and Spicijaric won speedy matches, freshman Dennis Nevolo, ranked No. 41, stole the show with his come-from-behind three-set thriller to clinch the win against fellow freshman and No. 87-ranked Carlos Cueto, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. Nevolo regrouped after losing the first set and trailing by a break in the second to cruise the rest of the way to victory.

“It was awesome,” Nevolo said. “Singles came around and everyone was battling. To come back after being down so big was huge. He started to wear down near the end of the second, and I picked up on that and just started working him. It was an unbelievable feeling. I didn’t even know it was the three-all match, I was just trying to win. So to find out I was clinching for the team made it feel even better.”