Men’s tennis looks to rebound against Purdue, Indiana

After winning six matches in a row, the Illinois men’s tennis team has now lost its last two, each by a score of 4-3. To get back onto the winning track, the Illini will look for more consistency this weekend as they continue their quest to win the Big Ten title.

No. 15 Illinois (10-7) will travel to West Lafayette, Ind., to take on Purdue (10-7) in the first of two Big Ten conference matchups this weekend. The Illini will then return home to take on the No. 41 Indiana Hoosiers (10-4) at 2 p.m. at the Kahn Outdoor Tennis Complex.

“Every match is a new story,” sophomore Dennis Nevolo said. “Both those teams have good players on them. Every court is battling and we just have to keep doing that throughout the season, and the wins will start coming.”

Freshman Stephen Hoh, who had his seven-match singles winning streak broken last week, will be a key factor for Illinois at No. 5 singles. Both coaches and players have noticed good play from Hoh since he arrived on campus in January.

“It’s such a difficult situation to come in as a January freshman, so the biggest thing is to try to see progress,” head coach Brad Dancer said. “We’ve seen some really positive things with him coming along. But, as is always the case with coaches, the changes you want to see never come fast enough.”

Teammate Connor Roth called Hoh a “great talent” and said the next step for him when facing weaker competition is “to get on the court and get done with it and put it away, because he has a tendency to keep it close, no matter what.”

The Illini will also look for help from No. 85 Abe Souza, who is looking for his 24th overall victory this season, which would set a new career high. The junior has won his last two singles matches and is 14-2 in the dual season.

The Boilermakers, who are 9-1 in home matches this year, will be led by Slavko Bijelica and Paul Foley, who will likely play at Nos. 1 and 5 singles, respectively.

Bijelica is 10-6 on the dual season, while Foley is 11-5. Purdue, which has lost its last two matches, has also struggled against top opponents, going 1-4 against ranked competition this year.

Either No. 35 Nevolo or No. 57 Marek Czerwinski will be at No. 1 singles for the Illini, leaving the other to face P.J. Rose at the No. 2 spot.

The Illini will then return home Sunday to take on the Hoosiers. Indiana comes in as winners of six of its last seven matches.

The Hoosiers are led by Josh MacTaggart, who is 10-4 on the dual season and has won his last five singles matches.

“They’re real competitive,” Roth said. “They just give it everything they’ve got all the time.”

Junior Johnny Hamui will likely matchup against MacTaggart in No. 4 singles, while the Illini also have to keep an eye on Santiago Gruter in the No. 1 spot.