Men’s tennis drops 2 of 3 at ITA Indoor Championships

After dropping its first two matches of the ITA National Indoor Championships in Charlottesville, Va., the No. 13 Illinois men’s tennis team defeated the Fresno State Bulldogs, 4-2, on Sunday.

“Our guys kept their belief system going and stayed tough and rebounded well,” head coach Brad Dancer said. “These are really tough matches to play when you come into a tournament like this.”

Fresno State won the doubles point to open the match and gain a quick lead.

“We lost the doubles point and that can be pretty deflating,” said junior Abe Souza. “We believed we were the better team and really took it to them in singles.”

Illinois responded quickly, winning No. 3 and 5 singles behind Marek Czerwinski and Souza. It was Souza’s 10th straight singles victory.

“(Souza) is playing unbelievable,” junior Johnny Hamui said. “I wish I could be playing like him right now.”

The Bulldogs responded with a win at No. 4 singles, as Illini freshman Stephen Hoh fell 6-4, 6-2.

After a close first set, No. 43 Dennis Nevolo defeated Mirko Zapletal 7-5, 6-1 in No. 1 singles. Hamui sealed the Illinois victory in No. 2 singles, winning 6-4, 6-3 against Tejesvi Veerepalli.

“I feel like I am playing better and better every single day,” Hamui said. “Dennis and Marek were playing well and fighting well, and it definitely helped me play the moment and keep fighting.”

Dancer noticed Hamui’s solid play, too.

“Today, he responded really well and maybe played his best match as an Illini so far and clinched it for us,” Dancer said. “Even though Johnny is kind of new to our team, he’s got the experience playing in big college matches and he’s got the leadership more by example and preparation than wins and losses.”

On Friday, Illinois fell to No. 4 Tennessee, 4-0, in the tournament’s round of 16. Illinois lost the doubles point quickly but continued to battle Tennessee. Junior Connor Roth was unable to stop Matteo Fago, giving Tennesee the 2-0 advantage. Nevolo won the second set against No. 2 John-Patrick Smith before falling in the third. Hamui came up short after losing a close first set 7-6 (7-5), and then falling 6-3 in the second to seal the win for Tennessee.

Illinois faced No. 10 Kentucky in the consolation round and lost in 4-3 on Saturday. After Souza and Roth fell at No. 3 doubles, Czerwinski and Hoh evened up the doubles score 1-1 for the Illini. But Kentucky’s No. 9-ranked doubles team of Eric Quigley and Brad Cox edged out Nevolo and Hamui, 8-6, to seal the point.

Wins by Roth and Czerwinski gave the Illini a 2-1 lead, but the Wildcats’ Anthony Rossi evened it up after defeating Hoh. Souza gave the Illini a brief lead, but No. 8 Quigley defeated Nevolo and No. 39 Alex Musialek topped Hamui, each in three sets, to give Kentucky the close win.

“We have a lot of respect for the Kentucky players,” Dancer said. “Kentucky just played better down the stretch.”