Men’s tennis coach says team needs to play with confidence

The truth is the road has not been kind to the No. 9 Illinois men’s tennis team. After winning eight straight matches in the state of Illinois — six at the Atkins Tennis Center — the men forgot to bring the same effort with them in their carry-on luggage to Texas A&M; and Notre Dame, losing two straight.

With three Big Ten matches this week on the road, a victory against Indiana on Tuesday is exactly the boost head coach Brad Dancer is looking for to get his team out of its funk.

“We’re not playing with a tremendous amount of confidence,” Dancer said. “You have to feel like you’re the guy out there, and you’re going to take the match. We need to stamp our identity on every match.”

This identity starts with a strong service game in doubles. Dancer wants to see his squad put the Hoosiers back on their heels from the opening of the match. The Illini are capable of making big plays, but Dancer feels that his players haven’t been playing up to their potential in the last two matches.

This has led Dancer to try new combinations with his doubles tandems. So far this season, the Illini are 60-28 in doubles with the No. 37 tandem of junior Marek Czerwinski and senior Marc Spicijaric netting the most victories with eight. Right behind them in total victories is the No. 32 duo of freshmen Dennis Nevolo and Ruan Roelofse with seven.

In singles, Dancer has looked to Roelofse to get key victories in the middle spots of the lineup but has felt at times that the South Africa native has taken a backseat to his opponents.

“Ruan is a big, strong player playing passively out on the courts,” Dancer said. “He’s 6-foot-2, 200–some pounds and can hit the ball big, yet he’s the one defending all the time. He’s letting matches be dictated to him.”

With only a day between matches, it would seem the Illini might have trouble regaining their powerful identity, but Spicijaric said one day of practice in Indiana, where the team stayed after Sunday’s match at Notre Dame, should be enough to get the team back in its groove.

Spicijaric said it’s the quality of the practice that will dictate how Illinois will perform Tuesday.

“We have to try and develop that intensity in our practices,” Spicijaric said. “When we play practice matches we need to get up to that level. We have to nail down (Indiana) from the start so they can’t get back into the match.”

But being on the road has not been entirely negative for the Illini. Dancer said road trips give the team a lot of necessary bonding time away from the game of tennis. He said this time together will hopefully solidify the team moving forward.

Nevolo said even after this rough patch of matches, the team is as close as ever.

“It’s always fun to go on road trips because everyone gets along well together,” Nevolo said. “But I think we all know each other pretty well by now,” he said with a laugh.