Men’s tennis falters after early lead against UCLA, beats Tulsa

By Alex Iniguez

After the No. 13 Illinois men’s tennis team’s win against No. 7 Florida, Illini head coach Brad Dancer said his team just had to get some wins. And after the doubles point Friday against No. 4 UCLA at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) National Men’s Indoor Championships in Chicago, it appeared as though the Orange and Blue would do just that.

The Bruins, however, had other ideas, as they stormed back to win the match 4-2.

“I think the biggest thing is just that, if you take a positive from this one, you take a learning experience,” Dancer said. “Our team is inexperienced, and that was so evident (against UCLA). I could just see it in the guys’ eyes at halftime, they didn’t know what was coming.”

The Illini came out firing in doubles play with senior Marc Spicijaric and junior Marek Czerwinski quickly defeating Matt Brooklyn and Harel Srugo, 8-4. Shortly after, freshman Dennis Nevolo and senior Brian Livingston secured the doubles point with another 8-4 victory at the No. 3 spot.

“We haven’t had success in the doubles point often,” Dancer said. “And whether you blame the coaches or the players, we just are inexperienced with how to deal with success.”

In singles play, the Bruins got off to a fast start by winning five of the six first sets. Illinois sophomore Roy Kalmanovich grabbed the lone victory for the Illini with a 6-0, 6-3 win against Srugo. After not playing in the past three matches, Kalmanovich got back into the swing of things in a big way, giving Illinois a 2-0 lead. After that, the Bruins were on cruise control, winning four straight matches to seal the come-from-behind triumph. Spicijaric battled tough against Brooklyn, but eventually, the Bruin was too much for him to handle. Brooklyn won the match, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, to shut the door on the late Illinois comeback attempt.

“I’m happy for Roy,” Dancer said. “I don’t think Srugo played his best tennis, so that plays into it, but yeah, I’m happy for Roy.”

Overall, in a tournament featuring 16 of the top collegiate tennis teams, the Illini proved they belonged in the same building. However, they have a lot more to prove if they are to become one of the elite teams, not to mention a contender to take down No. 1 Ohio State for the conference title.

“No team that’s playing in this tournament is going to quit,” Dancer said. “We just showed our inexperience. We saw that in a big way.”

After the tough loss to UCLA, the Illini bounced back, securing a 4-3 win over No. 12 Tulsa on Saturday and a 4-2 victory against No. 10 Baylor on Sunday, moving their record to 7-3 on the season. Spicijaric led the way, defeating Tulsa’s Victor Kolik in a three-set match before upsetting Baylor’s No. 13 Jordan Rux, 6-3, 6-3.