Illini men’s tennis splits weekend at ITA Kick-off

Illinois men’s tennis head coach Brad Dancer expressed concern after the Illini took both a tough loss and a close win Sunday at the ITA Kick-off Weekend, hosted by Georgia Tech.

“Right now, it’s time for us to start circling the wagons and pick things up,” he said.

The 15th-ranked Illini began Sunday with a 4-2 loss against No. 18 North Carolina. Senior Dennis Nevolo and freshman Tim Kopinski led the Illini, with No. 2 Nevolo earned his first win of the spring season against a ranked opponent, taking down No. 30 Jose Hernandez, 6-4, 6-1. At the No. 4 spot, Kopinski picked up a 6-3, 7-5 victory over Joey Burkhardt.

The duo provided Illinois’ only singles wins.

“We aren’t playing every match with a full deck,” Dancer said. “You can maybe do that in other sports and get by with it, but in tennis it’s really difficult. We have to get all six players playing at their full capability; if we do that, we can still have a great season.”

Illinois also dropped the doubles point, finishing Sunday with its first doubles loss of 2012.

The Orange and Blue were able to bounce back Monday, picking up a 4-3 win against host No. 19 Georgia Tech.

Freshmen Farris Gosea and Kopinski each picked up singles victories, along with junior Bruno Abdelnour and Nevolo.

Nevolo took down another ranked opponent, defeating No. 9 Kevin King, 6-4, 6-4.

“I lost a little bit of my mental focus,” Nevolo said. “But I just played tough and kept the putting pressure and came out on top. It was exciting.”

“I think we showed some tremendous leadership this weekend from Dennis Nevolo in a big pressure situation against a very good player,” Dancer said. “It was (King’s) home court and crowd, but Dennis really stepped up and it was great we didn’t come out of the weekend with two losses.”

However, the Illini were once again unable to successfully capture the doubles point, marking their second doubles loss in two days.

“We are still trying to find that balance of not compromising team standards and getting our guys playing fearlessly and a tremendous amount of passion,” Dancer said. “We have plenty of talent on this team to do very well.”

The Illini will continue their season this Friday at Duke and Sunday at Tennessee.