#16 Illini Advance to Sweet 16 with 4-3 Win over #17 Auburn
URBANA, Ill. - The 16th-ranked Fighting Illini men's tennis team (19-7) advanced to the round of 16 at the NCAA Championships after edging No. 17 Auburn (18-10) in a 4-3 thriller Saturday evening at Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex. Junior Bruno Abdelnour clinched the contest in a dramatic three-setter, capping off Illinois' nearly five-hour-long marathon match to give his team its 12th Sweet 16 berth in the past 14 years.
"It was a team effort out there today," Illini head coach Brad Dancer said. "I'm really proud of our guys. We played well all the way through. Doubles was the pivotal point. We came out and really took it to them in doubles and had chances to win all three, which I thought was fantastic. When you can do that, you figure out a way to squeak out some other singles matches."
The Orange and Blue captured the doubles point for the second day in a row in a pair of tight battles on courts one and three. No. 21 senior tandem Dennis Nevolo and Roy Kalmanovich led off with an 8-6 victory over 9th-ranked pairing Andy Mies and Alex Stamchev at the top spot. Junior duo Stephen Hoh and Abdelnour followed with an 8-6 decision against Daniel Cochrane and Lukas Ollert at No. 3 to give the Illini a 1-0 advantage.
Hoh carried over his success from doubles play with a quick 6-2, 6-3 win over Dennis Lengsfeld on court five. The Illini could not maintain that momentum, however, dropping the next three completed matches to hand Auburn a 3-2 advantage.
Nevolo managed to even the score with a 7-6(4), 6-4 victory over Mies on court one, marking his team-leading and career-high 30th win of the season and putting Illinois' fate in the hands of Abdelnour on court three.
In the deciding match, Abdelnour won a tight 7-6(5) first set over Cochrane before falling in the second. The Aleppo, Syria, native eventually recovered in the third to finish off his opponent, 7-6(5), 2-6, 6-3, clinching the Orange and Blue victory and a Sweet 16 berth.
"Bruno is such an exceptional human being that you just want to see great things happen for him," Dancer said. "No one deserves it more than he does."
Illinois is now 13-0 when winning in doubles and is 6-0 in its last six contests, matching its longest winning streak of the season.
The Illini will return to action at the NCAA Championships, May 18-22, on the campus of the University of Georgia, where they will face the winner of No.1 USC and Texas A&M in third-round play next Friday.
1. #7 Dennis Nevolo (ILL) def. #18 Andy Mies (AUB) 7-6 (7-4), 6-4
2. #68 Alex Stamchev (AUB) def. #31 Roy Kalmanovich (ILL) 7-6 (7-5), 6-3
3. Bruno Abdelnour (ILL) def. Daniel Cochrane (AUB) 7-6 (7-5), 2-6, 6-3
4. Lucas Lopasso (AUB) def. Tim Kopinski (ILL) 6-4, 7-6 (9-7)
5. Stephen Hoh (ILL) def. Dennis Lengsfeld (AUB) 6-2, 6-3
6. Lukas Ollert (AUB) def. Ross Guignon (ILL) 6-3, 6-2
1. #21 Dennis Nevolo/Roy Kalmanovich (ILL) def. #9 Andy Mies/Alex Stamchev (AUB) 8-6
2. Tim Kopinski/Ross Guignon (ILL) vs. Dennis Lengsfeld/Lucas Lopasso (AUB) 7-6, unfinished
3. Stephen Hoh/Bruno Abdelnour (ILL) def. Daniel Cochrane/Lukas Ollert (AUB) 8-6
Order of finish: Doubles (1,3); Singles (5,6,2,4,1,3)