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Bernstein approaches career milestone

Tracy Ko/Daily
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By John Kopko, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 20, 2014

Michigan women’s tennis coach Ronni Bernstein is on the brink of a major career milestone, but it wasn’t until recently that she was aware of it. Bernstein has won 299 tennis matches as a coach, and Saturday’s match against Western Michigan will be the Wolverines’ first shot at giving her No. 300.

“I didn’t even know I was close to that,” Bernstein said. “It means I’ve coached a lot of years, and a lot of great players. It takes the players more than me.”

Bernstein’s decision to become a tennis coach has its roots in Miami. As a college tennis player, Bernstein became a centerpiece in doubles and singles for the University of Miami, where during her four-year career she was a four-time ITA All-American in both singles and doubles.

As a sophomore she played her way to both an ITA Indoor doubles championship and an NCAA Outdoor championship, ending the season, 29-0. In 1988, she was named NCAA Senior Player of the year and reached the doubles championship match and the singles semifinals match.

“Looking back, that was most memorable for me, being in college and playing tennis,” Bernstein said. “Just how (my coach at Miami) made us better as a team, I wanted to be a part of that moving forward, and being able to work with kids who hopefully have as great an experience as I had.”

After finishing her illustrious career at Miami, Bernstein took her talents to the professional level. She played two years on the pro tour, peaking at a doubles rank of 30th in the world. But in 1990 Bernstein went back to college tennis to become an assistant coach at Arizona State.

In 1997, Bernstein became head coach for Florida International University in Miami for 10 years. In the last three years of her time at FIU, she led the Panthers to three consecutive first-place Sun Belt finishes, and three NCAA appearances.

In 2007, Michigan came calling and Bernstein relocated to Ann Arbor to build up a tennis program that had been struggling to improve.

“The culture that she has brought here is incredible,” said junior Emina Betkas. “She has turned this team around from being sort of average in the Big Ten, and has made (us) a contender nationally.”

In both of Bernstein’s first two seasons at the helm, the team finished second in the Big Ten and earned a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Since 2009, the Wolverines have won four consecutive Big Ten championships and made four consecutive trips to the Sweet 16.

When all is said and done in Bernstein’s career she will have amassed an impressive number of wins, conference championships and accolades. However, the numbers are not the most important thing for her.

“So many people have sat in my office and I’ve been on the court with (them),” she said. “Throughout the years it’s been a lot of wins, but I really credit the players that have come through.”

Added Betkas: “Her office is always going to be open, and no matter how your day is going she will always be there to talk to you. Just the way she is and how much she cares about us, and how much she is willing to help everyone no matter what is incredible.”

Bernstein and her team have prepared for the match against Western Michigan just like any other match. The number 300 might not even cross Bernstein’s mind when the Wolverines step out on the court Saturday against the Broncos. She will be on the bench, urging on her players, trying to recreate the experience for them that she had in Miami.

“We treat every match like it’s a big match, so when Western comes in we will be ready to go,” Bernstein said.

Michigan enters the match with a 5-2 record following a win against Notre Dame last weekend and the NCAA tournament still on its mind.

The Sweet 16 has been Michigan’s kryptonite four years in a row. With a sour taste still in her mouth, it’s fitting that Bernstein isn’t satisfied with sweets.

“I am not a dessert sugar person,” she said. “If you can give me a salt, a bag of chips or a box of popcorn, I’m good.”

As Bernstein continues to rack up wins and build relationships on and off the court, Michigan tennis is in good hands.

“I want to keep this thing rolling,” Bernstein said. “I think there has been a steady, steady improvement with the program and that we have brought it to a pretty good level. I’d like to take it to the next step.”