By Alex Steinhoff, 'M' tennis takes third place at ITA Kickoff
Published January 29, 2012
The Michigan men's tennis team sputtered at the ITA kickoff on Saturday after taking three quick points against No. 21 Texas Tech.
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In their first tilt, against the Red Raiders, the Wolverines won the first two doubles matches to clinch the doubles point for their third straight match.
Michigan also won two of the first three singles matches. But the Wolverines (2-2) couldn’t maintain the momentum, losing three singles matches in a row en route to a 4-3 loss to Texas Tech (3-0). Michigan was forced to settle for third place in the tournament, after sweeping Maryland (1-3) on Sunday.
On Saturday, the freshmen pair of Alex Petrone and Michael Zhu jumped out early on their opponents and never looked back, cruising to an 8-3 victory while their teammates were still competing.
“They were really competitive and made very few errors,” said Michigan coach Bruce Berque. “They really enjoy playing together and competing together, and they have great chemistry.”
At No. 2 doubles, sophomores Alex Buzzi and Barrett Franks broke the Red Raiders' serve to take a 7-6 lead. That was all they needed, as they held serve to win the pro-set and the doubles point for Michigan.
“We are certainly getting a lot more confidence in our doubles,” Berque said. “Young teams can sometimes struggle in doubles, but ... we’ve done a good job, so I definitely think we are getting confident.”
At No. 5 singles, Franks only took one game in each set, as Texas Tech's Vitor Manzini made quick work of the Wolverine sophomore. And at No. 4 singles, Zhu answered minutes later, winning in straight sets over Francisco Zambon — 6-3, 6-2.
Junior Evan King broke Raony Carvalho’s serve early and never looked back in his No. 1 singles match. King’s 6-3, 6-2 win pushed Michigan one match closer to winning the dual.
“We were up 3-1, but we all could sense it was coming down to the wire,” Berque said. “We were ahead, but we were really behind in a couple of matches.”
But Michigan couldn't get over the hump. At No. 6 singles, Buzzi was broken in the first set and couldn’t get anything going in the second set, dropping his match, 6-4, 6-1.
Petrone and Texas Tech's Rafael Garcia played a high-quality first set, with neither player forfeiting a service game. Petrone got the edge in the tiebreaker, winning it 7-5. But Garcia came out too strong in the second set for Petrone. He crushed the Wolverine freshman in the second set, 6-1, and did the same in the third, tying the dual.
With the dual tied at three matches apiece, the result was up to sophomore Shaun Bernstein and Texas Tech's Gonzalo Escobar at No. 2 singles. The winner of the match would send their team to the ITA Kickoff Final on Sunday afternoon, with the loser playing Sunday morning in the consolation match against Maryland.
Escobar won the first set, 6-3, after earning a break lead earlier in the set. The second set looked like a replay until Bernstein fought back, knotting the set at six and claiming the tiebreaker.
In the third set, Bernstein found himself in a huge hole again. Escobar broke the Wolverine twice and was one game away from victory at 5-1. But Bernstein wasn’t finished, rallying in three straight games before Escobar finally finished him off, 6-4.
“(Escobar) is good,” Berque said. “He is ranked top-20 in the country and is a very good player. I thought (Bernstein) did a great job to come back and push him to the brink in that match.”
On Sunday against the Terrapins, the Wolverines started fast again, clinching the doubles point with wins from No. 1 King and Bernstein and No. 3 Petrone and Zhu with scores of 8-3.
In singles, every Michigan player won their respective first sets, 6-4, including freshman Eli Brown, who played in his second singles match of the season.
“The guys did a really good job being able to turn it around and getting themselves ready to play today after a late night on the courts last night,” Berque said. “I thought the approach they brought to this match as a team showed a lot of maturity. That really helped them get off to such a fast start.”
For the second day in a row, Franks was the first Wolverine to finish, but this time he came out on top, 6-4, 6-3. King was the next off the court, taking his match, 6-4, 6-4. Petrone finished off Maryland's Vlad Stefan, 6-4, 6-4, to sweep the dual and send Michigan home with its second win of the season.
“We’re disappointed that we don’t get to advance to the National Indoors, but we played a very good team down to the wire (on Saturday), and that showed a lot of heart and toughness,” Berque said. “I think our guys are getting more confidence each match, as they showed on Sunday, and they really like the way they work hard together."