With a flawless singles record and strong edge in doubles, redshirt sophomore Alex Knight is building a reputation for himself on the court as one of Michigan’s most intimidating players.
“I’m just trying to stay level and just focus on getting every point I can,” Knight said. “I want my teammates to look over and go, ‘OK, this is the score right now because Knight is still fighting on that match.’ I’m just trying to stay level-headed and play through each match.”
But if he won’t admit it, the numbers will. Knight, who now has a perfect 9-0 record, is one of the key factors to the Michigan men’s tennis team’s success.
The Wolverines (1-0 Big Ten, 7-2 overall) shut out Michigan State on Friday, and the team is pushing its standards higher with every match, shutting out five teams already this season.
Knight, who hasn’t lost any singles matches this year, is steadily proving to be a powerhouse on the court. When the Wolverines suffered a tough 6-1 loss to Notre Dame last week, Knight managed to pull through by scoring the only singles point at No. 2 against opponent Alex Lawson in three sets, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6.
“I just want to come out and give the team the point in doubles and the point in singles,” Knight said. “That’s my number-one goal. Wherever I’m put, I just want to be that guy where my teammates look over and go, ‘That guy’s going to get the W.’ ”
In singles, Knight initially started the year at the No. 4 spot against Kentucky and worked his way up to No. 1 against Detroit before being set at No. 2 for the next few matches. He stepped back up to the No.1 position Friday night against the Spartan’s Mac Roy and didn’t fail to deliver a first-rate performance.
Knight claimed the first set, 6-4, despite having difficulty returning Roy’s serves. The next set proved to be even more grueling. With the score knotted up at 6-6, the match went into a tiebreaker. With four of his teammates already off the court, Knight had a lot of enthusiasm coming from the sidelines and the crowd. He managed to make a comeback after he was down, 4-2, at the changeover, scoring five of the next six points to win the match and end with a final score of 6-4, 7-6 (5).
“He only played No. 4 last year, and he’s only a sophomore,” said second-year Michigan coach Adam Steinberg. “I put him up to No. 1 tonight, and he’s a gamer and a great competitor. I knew that in this atmosphere, he would thrive under that. He’s doing a great job. He’s improved — it’s amazing from when I came (to Michigan). It was great for him to get through that second-set tiebreaker.”
If the Michigan State game took a toll on him, Knight didn’t show it against Alabama. He coasted through his match at No. 2 on Saturday, again winning in straight sets, 6-2, 6-2, to put his record at a flawless 9-0.
Despite being a strong influence to the scoreboard, one of Knight’s most driving qualities is his dedication to his team — he’s always focused on the players around him. Normally situated at the No. 1 or No. 2 spot, Knight is generally located in the center of the courts with a teammate on either side of him. Whether he’s down at the changeover or coasting through a straight-set match, he’s paying full attention to his teammates and cheering them on, regardless of his own score on the board.
“Our whole thing is teamwork, it’s playing as a team,” Knight said. “That’s what we’re going to do every match and that’s how we beat teams, is with that teamwork. I’m cheering them on and they’re cheering me on, and that’s how Michigan tennis plays.”
The Wolverines will face Washington on Friday at the Varsity Tennis Center, followed closely by Tulsa on Sunday.
With a player like Knight on their side, the Wolverines are quickly building an impressive record — and they don’t plan on slowing down.