Illini tennis continues recent dominance of Hooisers in 6-1 win

It may be a little late in the spring for “firsts,” but after two difficult road losses, the men’s tennis team finally found success away from home.

A 6-1 dismissal of host Indiana (11-9, 3-1) on Tuesday afternoon marked Illinois’ (14-5, 4-0) first spring win outside the borders of its home state and snapped a two-game slide that included losses against both Texas A&M; and Notre Dame.

For senior Marc Spicijaric, it felt good to get the road monkey off his back.

“We kind of expected to win this one,” Spicijaric said. “It’s good to finally get a road win under our belts, get back on the right track.”

The No. 13 Illini notched their 16th straight win against the Hoosiers, dating back to 1997, and captured their first doubles point of the current five-game road swing.

Junior Marek Czerwinski and Spicijaric orchestrated an 8-3 win at No. 1 doubles, downing the Hoosier tandem of Santiago Gruter and Jeremy Langer. The rest of the lineup followed suit, completing a clean sweep of all three courts.

Langer served up the Illini’s sole blemish on the day in a 6-3, 6-4, upset of No. 42-ranked sophomore Roy Kalmanovich at No. 3 singles, though head coach Brad Dancer pointed to the performance of the bottom half of the lineup as reason for hope later in the spring.

“We have great depth on our team, and (today’s win) gives us confidence that we really have some depth or not,” Dancer said. “Today we won at the four, five and six positions, and, in my opinion, that should be accounted for the rest of the year.”

The victory evened the all-time series between the two programs at 42-42 and cooled a Hoosier team that had won six of its past seven matches, including a 5-2 triumph over fellow conference rival Purdue on Saturday.

Though the match may not have offered as big a fight as the Illini will face later in the season, freshman Dennis Nevolo, who registered his fifth victory over a ranked singles opponent in dual play, stressed the team did not take the trip lightly.

“Coach took it very seriously,” Nevolo said. “We practiced really hard before and were just really prepared for the match.

“The way we played was an improvement over the last couple matches we lost on the road.”

The road now leads Illinois to a pair of Big Ten campuses this weekend, as the Illini prepare to defend an unblemished conference record against Iowa (10-4, 2-2) on Friday and Minnesota (14-4, 3-1) on Sunday.

Having now passed the midway point of the spring season’s longest stretch away from Atkins Tennis Center, Spicijaric knows the remaining miles will go a long way as far as preparation is concerned, even if it leaves the Illini feeling a little road weary.

“I think right now it’s not that bad, but ask us in another week, after this coming weekend, I think we’ll be pretty exhausted,” Spicijaric said. “All the driving and playing matches back-to-back, it’s really tough always being on the road.”