Nevolo, Illini look to win against some of nation’s best

When the Illinois men’s tennis team rolls into St. Helena, Calif., for this weekend’s Napa Valley Invitational, they will be surrounded by some of America’s best amateur tennis players with top contingents from Texas, Florida, USC, California-Berkeley and Kentucky as well as a selection of top junior players.

With the way Dennis Nevolo is playing, it may not matter.

At the Olympia Fields Country Club Fighting Illini Invitational last weekend, the junior did not drop a set on his way to a 4-0 singles record, earning Most Outstanding Player honors.

“Dennis has a game where he’s so imposing, it’s not reactionary where he’s waiting to see what happens, he’s willing his game on his opponents,” said assistant coach Marcos Asse, who will travel with the team this weekend.

“I certainly won’t measure a successful weekend for Dennis by him winning every game he plays, but if he executes all these things I strongly believe he will win every game,” Asse added.

Nevolo, currently ranked No. 26 in singles, has some specific aspects of his game in mind that he would like to develop during this weekend, including being more aggressive on his serves.

Asse will be looking for each of his players to showcase the skills they have fine-tuned in the offseason.

“The fall is a growth period,” Asse said. “It’s easy to execute some things in drills, but this is an opportunity to kind of put them to the test. You never want them to put winning on the back-burner, but we’re seeing guys go for big shots and things under pressure that they wouldn’t normally do, so it creates a little confidence and belief that they can do them in competition.”

But while he welcomes the chance to get better, Nevolo makes no secret of his priorities.

“I want to continue to do what I did last weekend,” Nevolo said. “I want to win.”

It is a sentiment echoed by senior Abe Souza, who will join senior Johnny Hamui and sophomore Bruno Abdelnour to round out the Illini delegation.

“You can’t really rationalize any sport without winning,” Souza said. “You can’t really say it would be a great weekend if I lost all my matches.

“Improving is good, but when push comes to shove I want to put it all on the line and be able to come out on top,” Souza added.