BY MATT RUDNITSKY
Daily Sports Writer
Published January 23, 2011
Every eye in the record-setting 687-person crowd focused intently on Michigan freshman Shaun Bernstein, who had just recovered from a first set loss to take the second.
Sophomore Evan King had just won his match at No. 1 singles in the Michigan men's tennis team's match against No. 5 Texas, leaving the Wolverines in a 3-3 tie with the Longhorns. The fate of the match rested solely on Bernstein's 18-year old shoulders.
This was no ordinary, politely-clapping tennis crowd, either. The audience cheered on Bernstein with constant “Go Blue” cries and rousing choruses of claps, reminiscent of those heard in the Big House.
After being shut out by Texas just a couple of weeks ago at the Key Biscayne Invitational, No. 25 Michigan put up a fight in Saturday's dual-match against the Longhorns, with the match coming down to a decisive third set at No. 5 singles.
But Bernstein just wasn’t at his best, as he was broken in the first game and never recovered. He battled throughout and the crowd cheered him on until he walked off the court, but it wasn’t enough — he lost to No. 100 nationally-ranked Ben Chen, 6-2, 2-6, 6-2.
Chen's win gave Texas (3-0) the 4-3 dual-match victory.
“I really didn’t play my best,” Bernstein said. “I missed a few opportunities and didn’t execute very well. But I don’t think the pressure got to me, it was just a couple of bad mistakes here and there that decided the match. When it’s that big of a match against that good of a player, you just can’t make those types of mistakes. But it was a great atmosphere.
“I couldn’t believe it, how great the crowd was. I can’t thank them enough. They really got behind me every point I won, even when I was down. That really helped me keep my composure and stay excited even when I was losing. That was unbelievable.”
The match's attendance shattered the previous Varsity Tennis Center attendance record by 136 fans.
But the crowd didn’t have an impact at the start of the match, as Michigan lost the doubles point with three straight, convincing losses to the Longhorns.
“In doubles, I thought they were better than us today,” Michigan coach Bruce Berque said. “I wish we had played a bit better, but we would have had to play great to win in doubles. I think they’re just a little better than us there.”
But then in singles play, the Wolverines made an impressive comeback, with King winning at No. 1, senior captain Jason Jung at No. 2 and freshman Barrett Franks dominating his opponent at No. 6.
“We definitely fought back,” Berque said. “Everyone fought really hard, but it just didn’t go our way in that end. To have three freshman, two sophomores and one senior playing, with our team MVP from the last two years out of the lineup, and come that close to beating Texas is an indication of the things we can do this year if we continue to improve.”
The Team MVP Berque is referring to is senior Chris Madden, who made a name for himself last year by clinching five matches for the Wolverines. He’s been sidelined all year with a wrist injury and is nearing a return to the court. Michigan could have benefited from his experience in such a tightly-contested match.
Nonetheless, the Wolverines (1-1) walked away from the match with an elevated sense of confidence and the knowledge that they can compete with the best programs in the nation.
“We can definitely take this as a confidence boost, because when we played them in Florida we weren’t nearly as successful," King said. " And this time, it came down to the little things. I mean, Shaun (Bernstein) had a tough one and all of the matches were great out there, we fought hard.
“Of course it’s disappointing because it would have been great to beat a top-five school, but it’s definitely a confidence boost because next week we have (No. 14) Duke and we know they’re a great program, but now we know we can compete with them because I mean, shoot, Texas is good.”