- Tracy Ko/Daily
By Jason Rubinstein, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 27, 2014
For the fifth straight year, the Big Ten Tournament title match proved to be the Michigan women’s tennis team’s downfall.
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After winning a highly contested doubles point, the Wolverines couldn’t pull through in the singles, losing four matches en route to a 4-3 loss against No. 16 Northwestern.
“That was one of the best matches I have ever had the opportunity to coach,” said Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein. “Both teams battled so hard, all the way until the end. We put ourselves in a position to win and just couldn't come away with it.”
Michigan took the momentum early after the Wolverines’ top doubles pair of junior Emina Bektas and senior Brooke Bolender won a tiebreaker to get No. 17 Michigan on the board. Junior Sarah Lee and sophomore Amy Zhu then sealed the doubles point, winning 8-6 at the third spot.
But the momentum was short-lived as the Wolverines dropped five first sets to start the singles.
Michigan (11-0 Big Ten, 21-4 overall) however, won the second set in each of those matches and wasn’t going to lose out on the tournament title match for fifth straight time — a second straight to Northwestern.
After losing 4-3 to the Wolverines in Ann Arbor in the dual-match season, the Wildcats (10-1, 19-6) weren’t ready for the same result and knew what they would need to knock off Michigan. And it showed in their resilience to fight back and win three match-deciding third sets.
Things looked promising for Michigan early, which was vying for a complete Big Ten title after going undefeated in Big Ten play and winning its fifth straight Big Ten regular-season championship. Bektas and Bolender both won their third sets, putting Michigan up 3-1, needing only one more win to clinch the match and tournament.
The Wildcats, though, proved too tough. Lee dropped her third set and freshman Laura Ucros did the same, losing 6-4 in a third set tiebreaker.
“We dug ourselves into too big of a hole with the start we had singles,” Bernstein said, “but we really hung in there and turned a few matches that I wasn't sure if we could.”
The match was then in the hands of Ronit Yurovsky. The sophomore had her hands full all day against a strong defensive player, Belinda Nui, who dominated the first set and nearly pulled out the match in the second if not for Yurovsky’s aggressive play to stave off a match point and force a second-set tiebreaker.
Heading into the third it appeared Yurovsky had the match in cruise control, racing out to a 5-2 lead — a near-mirror image of the two players’ last match on April 5, when Yurovsky won in three sets — but Nui was never fazed by the lead.
She often forced long rallies, eventually leveling the set at five. The match then came down to will power and sticking to a simple game plan, which Nui executed to near-perfection, breaking Yurovsky and serving out the match.
The Wolverines won’t have much time to hang their heads — next weekend marks the start to the NCAA Tournament. Bernstein certainly won’t let this loss affect the team mentally, and will instead use it as a learning experience.
“It was a great match,” she said. “(It’s) just unfortunate that we had to come out on the short end.”