BY ALEX STEINHOFF
Daily Sports Writer
Published March 10, 2011
Rarely in life are there "no brainers." But for freshman Shaun Bernstein, coming to Michigan was just that.
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Faced with a combination of great academics, and a committed tennis program, Bernstein could not pass up the offer to join the Michigan tennis team.
“The coaches were interested in me from day one of the process,” Bernstein said on Tuesday. “That really showed a lot of interest and a lot of focus on me. They even made some suggestions of possible improvements or paths that my game could possibly take, and it was good to know, going into a possible four year program, that I’m going to be coached by them.”
With the Big Ten season looming, Bernstein has transformed from a member of the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation to one of Michigan’s best players in less than one year.
Before joining the Wolverines, Bernstein had known fellow Michigan recruit Justin Rossi since the two were 11 years old. Bernstein was pleased to see the level of commitment Rossi had to his game. Additionally Bernstein had also already met recruit Barrett Franks, whom he'd seen in three straight international tournaments in Asia.
Bernstein visited campus before his commitment and watched some practices to get an idea of what the current players brought to the team.
“I got a feel for the team and their really good work ethic,” Bernstein said. “I got the feel of a program that was on the rise and taking itself very seriously.”
For Bernstein, this emerging program – one that has been ranked as high as No. 8 this season – was one he could not resist joining. Once Bernstein and his fellow freshmen came to campus, they made immediate impacts on and off the court.
Because of the small size of the team – nine players in total, including three freshmen – the freshmen core needed to produce for the Wolverines to have a successful season.
“For all the freshmen I think (their role) is stepping up, because we have such a young team,” senior captain Jason Jung said. “But for Shaun specifically, I would say it’s being a leader within all those freshmen, just because he acts more mature than most 18 year olds. He is definitely taking a leadership role within the freshmen group.”
Bernstein leads by example. And thanks to junior USTA tennis and his junior coaches, he explained what it takes off the court to win on the court. He learned what to eat, how much to sleep, how much to train and how to balance both his studies and his tennis.
“Even though I’m only a freshman, I think junior tennis taught me a lot and I think I have a good idea of what formula off the court can lead to having your body being in the best condition to achieve what you want to on the court,” Bernstein said. “Hopefully that will set a good example and be a help to the team the rest of the year.”
Because of his positive attitude and friendly personality, Bernstein has made connections with his teammates that have helped him grow as a leader and a tennis player.
His friendly nature, which has helped him establish connections with his teammates, also led to a calm and relaxed attitude while playing tennis. Bernstein came to Michigan with a foundation from junior tennis that taught him what was needed to be a successful tennis player, but most importantly, the attitude needed to win.
“Sometimes when I’m not doing something right and want to be, I can get really frustrated, but I don’t yell or curse or throw my racquet,” Bernstein said. “It’s kind of just internal, but I do think that I try to set a good example by staying calm and really focusing on what work I have to do, rather than on the result of the shot or the practice set. I want to focus more on just putting in the work I have to do, not ‘that shot didn’t go my way, so I’m just going to freak out.’
“Maintaining a good presence and staying calm when things aren’t 100 percent is important for myself and the whole team dynamic too.”
Bernstein's calm and focused mindset while playing has benefited himself in many situations this year, and has also given his team a steady minded person to look to.
“It’s the way he handles himself,” Jung said. “On the court, he does a good job of not showing his emotions as much; it’s the way he handles problems within tennis and outside of tennis, you can kind of see how he has the leadership role.”
But leading by example is not something that has guaranteed wins in every match. While Bernstein sets the highest standards for himself and strives for perfection, winning matches in college tennis isn’t easy.
In his second singles match of the season, Bernstein was on the court against then-No. 5 Texas. The match was tied at three, and Bernstein’s third set was going to determine the entire dual match for the Wolverines. But the pressure of a fan-filled Varsity Tennis Center and a season-defining upset on his shoulders was too much for the freshman. He went on to lose the set and Michigan’s hopes for an upset bid vanished.
“Those are the times when you really find out how well everything holds up under the most amount of pressure,” Bernstein said. “The match against Texas was very beneficial for me; having it come down to me and having the entire match rely on one set was a ton of fun and also the fact that I lost taught me a lot. Sometimes you can learn more from losing than from winning, and in that case I did.”
Later in the season in South Bend Ind., Bernstein found himself in the same position. All matches were finished and the Wolverines were knotted at three with the then-No. 23 Fighting Irish. Bernstein was alone on the court for the second time this season, with the match riding on his shoulders. The result against Notre Dame, however, was different than the result against Texas. Bernstein won the deciding set and delivered the road victory for the Wolverines.
“Personally I would like to establish myself as one of the next best guys in doubles (behind King and Jung),” Bernstein said. “In singles, I think if I was able to hold down the number three spot and was able to come up with some wins in that position, and be a little more consistent in my results there, that would really help the team the most.”
This freshman, who came to Ann Arbor from Plainview, N.Y., a town of 27,000 people, is making his presence felt in on a team that is making strides nationally and is now ranked No. 12 in the country.
“I would definitely like to be a leader," Bernstein said. "I think down the road I would like to maybe step up as (captain) and maybe try to establish myself as definitely someone who sets a good example and tries to lead everyone else and steer them in the right direction as best I can."