Men’s tennis goes outdoors for first time this season at Florida

The Illinois men’s tennis team faces a new challenge this weekend, and not just in the form of its highly ranked opponent.

For the first time this season, the Illini will play outdoors. No. 13 Illinois travels to Gainesville, Fla., to take on No. 6 Florida (7-2) on Sunday. The Illini (4-4) will have to adjust to the conditions of the weather, which usually means a slower tempo of the game.

“You definitely have to be ready for everything to come back because the courts are slower and you don’t hear the sound of the ball like you do in here (Atkins Tennis Center),” junior Connor Roth said. “You have to use more spin and more angles. Hitting flatter is usually a little lower percentage, and outside you’re going to have to hit more of those to win the point.”

Some of the Illini are looking forward to the challenge of playing outdoors, including freshman Steven Hoh, who is a native of Australia.

“We just have to take into account factors like the wind,” Hoh said. “It will probably help me a bit because when I trained in Melbourne it was all outdoors. We just have to use those other things like the wind to our advantage and hopefully use it better than the other team.”

The outdoor tempo does not worry No. 42 Dennis Nevolo, who said that such a style of play is “kind of my game, I kind of fit outdoors pretty well.”

Nevolo will have the hardest task of the weekend as he takes on No. 17 Alexandre Lacroix, who is 7-2 at No. 1 singles.

“I saw him play last week and he’s pretty solid all around,” Nevolo said. “I think a little bit of variety, just mix it up on him a little bit, I don’t know if he’s going to like that too much. I like my game against his.”

The Illini will also be led by No. 57 Abe Souza, who has won 10 straight matches and is 7-0 to begin the dual season.

“He really doesn’t have to change a whole lot,” Hoh said. “He’s just got to keep believing in himself and keep his confidence high, and I think he’ll be fine.”

Getting off to a quick start will be key for Illinois this weekend against a Florida team that has won the doubles point in eight of its first nine matches. Illinois has won it in just three of eight matches.

“The main thing we have got to do is to have a very high intensity and a good level of energy,” Hoh said.

“That’s something we can do a bit better.”