URBANA, Ill. — Illinois (19-7) advanced to the round of 16 at the NCAA tournament after edging Auburn (18-10) in a 4-3 thriller on Saturday evening at Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex. 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 berth in the round of 16 in the past 14 years.
“It was a team effort out there,” 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. Dennis Nevolo and Roy Kalmanovich led off with an 8-6 victory against Andy Mies and Alex Stamchev at the top spot. 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 lead.
Hoh carried over his success from doubles play with a quick 6-2, 6-3 win against 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 against 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 against 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 berth in the round of 16.
“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.