Every time the Michigan men’s tennis team travels away from Ann Arbor, it seemingly becomes a different squad.
The Wolverines are 12-0 at the Varsity Tennis Center, but just 3-4 on the road.
That trend of poor road play continued this weekend. The Wolverines traveled to Evanston on Friday and Champaign on Sunday to take on No. 15 Northwestern and No. 17 Illinois, respectively. Though both matches had points in which Michigan looked like it might turn its luck around, it fell in each, 4-1.
In both matches, the Wolverines got out to slow starts. They lost the doubles point in both days, putting themselves in a 1-0 hole early.
“On the road, (winning the doubles point) is crucial,” said Michigan coach Adam Steinberg. “I think at home — I know it sounds strange — it’s probably not as imperative, even though you want to win the doubles point. When you’re on the road, it can really break a team’s spirit for the home team by winning that doubles point, especially against these teams that are very good.”
One bright spot for Michigan was the play of junior Kevin Wong. Wong played in the No. 5 singles matches this weekend and came out with two victories, winning 7-6, 6-1 on Friday and 6-2, 6-2 on Sunday.
For the rest of the Wolverines, there were many close matches, but nobody else could come through for a win. One of those players was redshirt sophomore Alex Knight. He lost 6-3, 7-5 to No. 15 Konrad Zieba on Friday before coming back to force a third set against No. 12 Jared Hitzik on Sunday. But Knight’s Sunday match ended early after Illinois won its fourth match point in the No. 4 singles match.
“This is a big step up for (Knight) — playing No. 1,” Steinberg said. “I told him his tennis is going up and up and up every time I see him on the court. He just has to believe in himself more, and when that comes, everybody had better watch out.”
A lack of production from the top of the lineup has been a consistent issue for Michigan this season. Though Knight and junior Jathan Malik have shown flashes of brilliance at No. 1 and 2 singles, it has been the Wolverines’ depth that has driven them to their success on the year.
Michigan continues to search for consistency, but it’s not disheartened heading toward the end of the season.
“They’ve turned around Michigan tennis,” Steinberg said of his current team. “When NCAA (Tournament) time comes around and there’s no tomorrow, the guys will come together. We’re going to really scare some great teams and go on a run. I really believe that. They’re motivated.”
But the Wolverines will need to make some sort of adjustment to gain consistency and exorcise their road demons if they want to fulfill their coach’s beliefs and find success this postseason.