No. 9 Illini struggle in road loss to No. 27 Notre Dame

If a two-week hiatus between matches is the excuse for the No. 9 Illinois men’s tennis team’s struggles against No. 27 Notre Dame in a 4-3 loss, Illinois head coach Brad Dancer is happy that justification can’t be used again in the coming weeks.

“It’s frustrating,” said Dancer after the loss in South Bend, Ind. “We just made mistakes that are unbecoming of our team in terms of the additional application of putting ourselves onto the opponents. We’re not doing that as well as we need to.”

The troubles for the Illini began in the doubles portion when the 37th-ranked tandem of senior Marc Spicijaric and junior Marek Czerwinski were defeated 8-1 by the Fighting Irish’s 25th-ranked doubles team of Brett Helgeson and Tyler Davis at No. 1 doubles.

Spicijaric also lost to Helgeson, 6-2, 6-7(3), 6-1, at No. 1 singles, where the two were ranked No. 63 and No. 22 in singles, respectively.

“Overall, I think we just started a little slow, especially in doubles, but I think we fought hard,” Spicijaric said. “I think once we start winning some of those close matches, it’ll start giving us more confidence. Right now, we really need to start winning those matches.

“We need to get the (Notre Dame) match out of our system.”

Senior Brian Livingston and freshman Dennis Nevolo registered a 7-6(5) win against Notre Dame’s David Anderson and Daniel Stahl at No. 3 doubles; however, the Irish had already secured the doubles point with an 8-5 win at No. 2 doubles against sophomore Roy Kalmanovich and freshman Ruan Roelofse.

While singles play offered the Orange and Blue (13-5) a clean slate, five of the six matches featured an Illini losing in the first set. Already down by a point in the race to four, the deficit was too much to overcome on the road.

“We have great resiliency. We’ve shown that all year long that our guys don’t quit,” said Dancer. “That’s one positive of our team. I don’t know if it’s fear of failure or fear of what, but we don’t seem to go out and take it to our opponent. It seems like we’re a little bit reactionary.”

“You can quit or you can fight back, and we always seem to fight back.”

Czerwinski was the lone Illini to win his opening set en route to a 6-3, 7-6 victory against Notre Dame’s Niall Fitzgerald at No. 6 singles, which temporarily tied the match at one.

However, Notre Dame (11-9) quickly regained control with a 7-5, 6-3 win at No. 4 singles with Stahl defeating Roelofse to go ahead 2-1. After trading team points, which featured Illinois single wins by No. 35 Nevolo (3-6, 6-3, 5-2) and No. 43 Kalmanovich (6-7, 6-2, 6-4), the match came down to a battle between Illinois junior Meedo El Tabakh and Notre Dame’s David Anderson on court No. 5.

Anderson beat El Tabakh 7-6, 6-4 to seal the win for the Irish, who lead the all-time series against the Orange and Blue, 22-19. The loss marked the Illini’s second consecutive 4-3 loss after falling to Texas A&M; in College Station, Texas, on March 15.

“I just think we need to come out firing,” said Dennis Nevolo about the team’s Tuesday match at No. 45 Indiana. “We need to come out more prepared, be ready right away. I think everyone fought really hard (Sunday).”