The Michigan men’s tennis team is still looking for solid play from its second singles position after losing its third straight match — and first at home this season — against Tulsa by a score of 5-2.
Michigan senior Evan King, ranked 16th in the ITA rankings, won his 11th straight match, and has been a rock for the Wolverines during the dual season. However, behind him, there have been many question marks.
Michigan sophomore Vlad Stefan was bothered by shoulder problems early in the season and has struggled to get on track. In his Wednesday loss, 7-5, 6-2, he showed signs of the player who was ranked 53rd in the preseason rankings when he fought back from a 4-1 deficit in the first set to tie it at 5-5.
But he also showed signs of the player who has gone 1-5 in the second singles position.
Michigan coach Bruce Berque asserted his faith in Stefan’s abilities when asked if he’d stay in the second singles spot.
“Vlad has proven he can play at that level in the past,” Berque said.
The Wolverines started off strong, with all three doubles courts getting ahead on the Golden Hurricane. However, only the tandem of King and junior Alex Buzzi was able to pull out a victory, 8-4. This was Buzzi’s first time playing in a dual match with King, and it worked well with both approaching the net and putting pressure on their counterparts.
The tandem of sophomores Michael Zhu and Alex Petrone lost 8-5, while juniors Shaun Bernstein and Barrett Franks dropped their match, 8-3.
Michigan started its singles matches on fire, winning the first set in five of its six matches. However, Petrone, Zhu and redshirt sophomore Justin Rossi couldn’t finish off their opponents and each lost in three sets.
“We protected a little too much,” Berque said. “We have to trust our game and stay aggressive when we are in the lead.”
Down 4-3 in the last set, Petrone got aggressive again, tying it up 4-4 and even going up 40-30 with the help of two vicious forehands down the line. But he ended up running out of steam as his counterpart rallied to win the game. He then followed to win the set.
Three of the four Michigan losses have come at the hands of Top-25 teams, and while Berque acknowledges the struggles that Michigan has had, he also points out that the team has been improving of late, citing the improved play of Petrone and Barrett, as well as the strong doubles play by Buzzi against Tulsa.
Michigan hopes that its two through six spots in the singles lineup will play more consistently starting with their match at Pepperdine on March 6.