18-11 (7-3 Big Ten) | 4th Place Big Ten | NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 | Highlight Video
With all but one major contributor back for the 2010-11 season, upperclassmen led the way for the Illinois men's tennis team throughout the arduous dual schedule that featured top-25 opponents in 15 of the squad's 29 matches. Despite some ups and downs, the Illini prevailed when it mattered and earned a trip to the round of 16 of the NCAA Championships for the ninth time in 10 years. Individually, junior Dennis Nevolo enjoyed a breakout year in which he garnered Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) All-America honors for the first time in his career, in addition to his third straight unanimous All-Big Ten honor.
The fall season kicked off with the fourth annual Olympia Fields Country Club Fighting Illini Invitational, which included matches against players from 2010 NCAA contenders Alabama, Notre Dame and Wake Forest. For the weekend, the Illini won a combined 19 matches, led by Nevolo, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player after going 4-0 in singles without dropping a set.
Nevolo also found success in doubles with senior Abe Souza later into the fall, as the duo went 5-1 and claimed a runner-up finish at the USTA/ITA Midwest Regional Championships. In the final major tournament of the fall, the USTA/ITA National Indoor Championships, Nevolo knocked off then-No. 1 John-Patrick Smith of Tennessee to secure his first win over a top-ranked player as an Illini.
Illinois opened at No. 15 in the national rankings and led off the spring season with the Illini Open, a three-day event held in Sarasota, Fla., featuring opponents from Florida State and Texas Tech in the final individual matches of the year. Upon their return home the following week, the Illini added a familiar face to the roster in junior Roy Kalmanovich, who re-enrolled at the University in early January after having spent two years on the team from 2007-09.
First up on the docket for the dual season was a road match at top-ranked Virginia, which at the time was riding a 75-match home winning streak. Unfortunately, that streak continued, as the Cavaliers came away with a 7-0 win. Illinois bounced back the following weekend with wins over Denver and Notre Dame in the first and second rounds of the ITA National Team Indoor Championships to advance to the round of 16 of the tournament for the 15th straight year.
In the two weeks leading up to the round of 16, Illinois hosted four top-15 programs including Tennessee, Duke, Kentucky and Florida, and went 3-1 during that span. While the lone loss came to Tennessee, the match was highlighted by Nevolo's three-set victory over then-No. 1 Rhyne Williams for his second win of the season over a top-ranked opponent.
The wins helped propel Illinois to the No. 8 seed in the final rounds of the ITA National Team Indoor Championships where the squad went 1-2 on the weekend. The Illini advanced to the quarterfinals with a 4-1 win over Texas A&M, but fell to top-seeded and eventual indoor champion Virginia, and fifth-seeded Texas in a consolation match.
The Orange and Blue went 4-4 over its next eight matches, before closing out the regular season with wins in five of its final six contests. With a 7-3 mark in Big Ten play, the Illini finished in fourth place and thus drew the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament. Taking on No. 5 Michigan in the quarterfinals, Illinois relied on solid singles play from Souza, Kalmanovich, senior Johnny Hamui and sophomore Bruno Abdelnour to overcome the Wolverines who had won the doubles point. The 4-3 victory earned a rematch with top-seeded Ohio State, which cruised through Big Ten play with an unblemished mark. Unfortunately, the Buckeyes maintained their conference winning streak with their 78th straight Big Ten victory to end Illinois' tournament run in the semifinals.
The NCAA field was released shortly after with Illinois receiving a bid to host the first and second rounds for the 12th time in 13 years. The Illini defeated Missouri Valley Conference champion Drake, 4-0, in the opening round, before taking down 16th-seeded North Carolina, 4-1, in a thriller at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex. Sophomores KU Singh and Stephen Hoh held strong at No. 3 doubles to secure the 1-0 advantage, while in singles, Nevolo and Souza outlasted opponents on courts one and four to set up Hamui's match-clinching victory.
The win earned the Illini a spot in the round of 16 for the ninth time in 10 years, as well as a third shot at top-seeded Virginia at the Taube Tennis Center in Stanford, Calif. In a match delayed more than three hours due to lengthy contests earlier in the day, the Illini struggled in both singles and doubles, en route to a 4-0 loss to the eventual national runner-up Cavaliers.
Nevolo's season continued the following week at the NCAA Singles Championships, where he reached the round of 16 for the first time in his career to earn All-America accolades. For the season, he led the team with a career-high 29 singles victories, including 16 over nationally ranked opponents, in addition to recording the best doubles mark on the year with 22.
Souza ranked second on the team with 25 wins and ended his career with 99, which ties him with Neil Adams for 12th all-time in career singles wins. At the team's annual awards banquet, the St. Louis, Mo., native was named Advantage Illinois Most Valuable Player and earned the squad's Chris Martin Fighting Illini Spirit Award. Additionally, he was the University of Illinois Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year, the Midwest recipient of the ITA/Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship Award, and a CoSIDA/Capital One Academic All-District second team honoree.
Rounding out the senior class for 2011 were Hamui and Roth. Hamui garnered second-team All-Big Ten accolades for the first time in his career and finished the season with a career-best 18 wins in singles to earn the team's Most Improved Award, while Roth collected nine singles wins and six in doubles and was the team's Big Ten Sportsmanship honoree.
Kalmanovich and Singh made significant contributions throughout the dual season, as each shared time at No. 2 singles. Kalmanovich recorded eight of his 16 wins at the position, while Singh added eight wins of his own for the spring and was tabbed Player to Watch by his teammates.
Hoh, Abdelnour and redshirt freshman Brian Alden each saw a fair share of action as well, highlighted by Hoh's career-high totals in both singles (22) and doubles (19). Abdelnour posted career highs of his own, as he tallied 14 singles wins and eight in doubles, and also earned the team's Strength and Conditioning Award and Scholar-Athlete Award, while Alden secured 17 doubles victories and six in singles in his debut season.
The Illini, who ranked 17th in the final ITA national rankings, finished the season with an 18-11 overall record, including 14 wins over nationally ranked opponents..