Illini sweep Wisconsin, look ahead to Big Tens

Last year Wisconsin’s Marek Michalicka had Dennis Nevolo’s number by defeating the junior twice in singles. This time around, Nevolo returned the favor for the No. 18 Illinois men’s tennis team.

Nevolo defeated the No. 55-ranked Michalicka in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3 Sunday as the Illini (15-9, 7-3 Big Ten) wrapped up the regular season with a 7-0 sweep of Wisconsin at the Atkins Tennis Center.

“I felt more like myself today,” Nevolo said. “I feel a lot healthier than last year, I was pretty sick last year, and it helped today in the longer rallies. He’s really tough to play, a lot of variety, I played aggressive, and things just went my way.”

Illinois opened the day by winning the doubles point at the Nos. 2 and 3 spots by the duos of Brian Alden and Dennis Nevolo, and KU Singh and Johnny Hamui.

The momentum carried over into singles as the sophomore Singh quickly downed Bill Bertha 6-4, 6-0 at No. 2 singles to make it 2-0.

Moments later, it was No. 74 Abe Souza’s turn as he defeated Ricardo Martin 6-2, 6-2 at the No. 5 position for his sixth straight win. Knowing it could be the last home match in his career, the senior wanted to keep his focus on Martin.

“I came out and played really well, the conditions were just about perfect,” Souza said. “It was nice to play outside and I’ve just been playing better and better and today was great. I really broke him down and shut him down and he got a little unnerved. I was really pleased the way I stayed on task.”

Junior Roy Kalmanovich then delivered the clincher at the No. 3 singles spot with a 6-3, 6-0 win over Fredrik Ask. Nevolo’s win followed.

At the No. 4 position, No. 98 Johnny Hamui, a senior, also went out with a win when he defeated Petr Satral 6-1, 4-6, 1-0 (10-1) by dominating in the super tiebreaker.

Rounding out the day, sophomore Bruno Abdelnour topped Rod Carey 6-4, 6-3 at No. 6 singles to secure the sweep.

Sunday’s win came two days after Illinois fell to No. 23 Minnesota at the Atkins Tennis Center. Minnesota started the match strong by getting the doubles point. Singh, Hamui and Souza all delivered wins for the Illini, but the Gophers’ Rok Bonin was able to outlast Kalmanovich to clinch the win.

Illinois now shifts its focus to the Big Ten Tournament, which begins April 28. The Illini will travel to Madison, Wis., with high aspirations, knowing they need to do well in order to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.

“We’re probably going to have to go on the road unless we win the Big Ten Tournament title,” head coach Brad Dancer said. “I still think that’s a possibility as a coach, I still think that’s a huge goal for us that we go out and play to win that title.”