No. 7 Illini men’s tennis remain perfect in conference play

One of the most important goals for the Illinois men’s tennis team this season is to win the Big Ten title, and this weekend the No. 7 Illini helped their cause. With a pair of 4-3 wins against No. 44 Northwestern and No. 19 Wisconsin, the Orange and Blue improved to 3-0 in the Big Ten and 13-3 overall.

The result of the team’s hard work, on and off the court, was two narrow wins against tough conference opponents.

“We came out with energy in doubles in both matches and that’s been an important point we’ve been stressing in practice,” Illinois head coach Brad Dancer said. “I thought it was a team effort the whole weekend. Everyone stayed engaged and involved, from the guys that played to the guys on the sideline, and that was a huge positive for us.”

After slightly sluggish play a week ago in victories against four teams, including Purdue, the Illini picked up the intensity. The players on the court displayed greater emotion and desire against Northwestern and Wisconsin, while those on the sidelines also stepped up their games.

Throughout the weekend, Abe Souza, Waylon Chin and Connor Roth, among others, could be heard vocally supporting their team and pumping up the Atkins Tennis Center crowds.

Perhaps the most focused and energized player this weekend was senior Brian Livingston.

The Skokie, Ill., native improved to 7-1 in singles play with two victories while tallying another two wins in doubles with freshman Dennis Nevolo. Livingston’s singles wins both came in straight sets, highlighted by a 6-2, 6-2 triumph against Wisconsin’s Michael Dierberger.

Of the eight points the Illini put up against the Wildcats and Badgers, Livingston played a direct role in half of them, while his liveliness on the sidelines made an impact that won’t show up in the stat book.

“Doubles went really well,” Livingston said. “Dennis has been sick with bronchitis, so we’ve had to make sure he takes his time on the changeovers, but if we can do that, we’re fine. In singles, I felt really good, and I was hitting the ball well. I feel like these matches shouldn’t have been 4-3, but overall we’re doing well and winning, so that’s all that matters.”

Against Wisconsin, Marek Czerwinski was on a roll. The junior paired with senior Marc Spicijaric to top Dierberger and Michael Muskievicz. The No. 41 duo from Illinois efficiently dismantled the Badger tandem, 8-4.

In singles play, Czerwinski, ranked No. 101, fought back from a 4-1 deficit in the first set and cruised in the second set against Luke Rassow-Kantor, 7-6 (3), 6-3, to improve to 9-2 on the year.

“Marc and I didn’t really do anything spectacular, but we played really solid tennis,” Czerwinski said. “We made a lot of returns, made good serves and played hard. We forced them to beat us, and they couldn’t. In singles, I struggled at the beginning. I really had to focus on one point at a time when I was down 4-1 because I was getting ahead of myself. Then second set I got on a roll, and he mentally just didn’t want to fight me anymore.”

After playing six matches in two weeks, Illinois will have a slower schedule to close out March. Next week, the Illini travel to College Station, Texas, to take on No. 52 Texas A&M;, prior to a two-week hiatus leading into a match against No. 25 Notre Dame.