The No. 8 Michigan men’s tennis team split the weekend, beating Penn State on Saturday, 5-2, before faltering, 6-1, against No. 2 Ohio State on Sunday.
Saturday’s match started with inconsistent doubles, which was nothing new for the Wolverines (12-3 overall, 2-1 Big Ten). After winning the first doubles match, 6-2, Michigan couldn’t close out any of the other two matches, losing 6-2 and 7-6 (4) at second and third doubles, respectively.
“We served for (the doubles point) twice, and that’s happened a lot this year where we are just not finishing,” said Michigan coach Adam Steinberg. “It’s becoming a little bit of a habit where we have it in our sights and we’re letting it go.”
However, the Wolverines rebounded and hit the ground running during the singles matches, winning four of the six matches in convincing fashion while senior Runhao Hua grinded out a fifth point in three sets at No. 1 singles.
“You want to grab that momentum back as soon as you can,” Steinberg said. “Davis (Crocker) did a great job. Carter (Lin) has had a great year and finished his opponent pretty quickly, but that whole side with Alex (Knight), Davis and Carter were great yesterday and brought us to victory.”
Michigan experienced another win on Saturday — freshman Mattias Siimar’s return from injury. Siimar not only won at No. 1 doubles with Knight, but he also harassed the Nittany Lions (11-7, 1-2) at No. 5 singles, winning 6-1, 6-2.
“Keeping him off the court is really tough, but he feels good, and (he) needed that,” Steinberg said. “He loves to be on the court, so I know he was really dying to get back out there, and it obviously helps our team. We need him.”
His return was not enough to overcome the Buckeyes (16-2, 3-0), though. Despite a lopsided 6-1 defeat, the scoreboard did not reflect how close many individual matches were as the Wolverines lost two of their singles matches in third-set tiebreakers on top of losing the doubles point, 6-4, 7-5.
“With our team, I think everyone feels like we have a chance to win at every position, which is really good because it doesn’t really put extra pressure on anybody,” Steinberg said. “When you go into Ohio State, you’re playing on those front courts against the best players.
“It’s a huge challenge, but it’s also fun. It’s the atmosphere you want to play in front of and I think they grow a lot from it.”
The one win on Sunday came at No. 4 singles from junior Myles Schalet, who was the only player to lose against Penn State. Playing the No. 42 player in the country, Schalet closed out a tight three-set match, 7-6(1), 4-6, 10-3.
“Today, he handled himself well when he was down and hung in there,” Steinberg said. “(He) was more positive and played with real good energy even when he was losing, and (it) helped him through the match. And then his best tennis comes out of that.”
With conference season just beginning, Steinberg continues to play with new doubles lineups in hope to remedy Michigan’s deficiency in that area. But Steinberg also looks at the bigger picture. His takeaways from the weekend are straightforward.
“We just have to get four points,” he said. “We don’t have to get any more than that. So if we can win the doubles and find three spots against these top teams, then that’s all we need. And we are good enough to do that against anybody.”