For at least a few minutes, it looked like the Michigan men's tennis team might not lose a game against Purdue. In singles play, the Wolverines won the first game on all six courts, jumping out to a 2-0 lead on four of them, en route to winning 5 of the 6 opening sets.
Michigan was far less successful in second sets, though, and the Wolverines had to withstand late pressure to defeat Purdue, 4-1.
Michigan got off to a slow start in the doubles session, dropping breaks at No. 1 and No. 3, but it rebounded on both courts with late breaks and earned the doubles point with 6-3 and 6-4 victories at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.
The early dominance continued onto many of the singles courts, with freshman Myles Schalet and sophomore Davis Crocker shutting out their opponents in their first sets.
Crocker dominated by hitting an unusually high percentage of his first serves, which Boilermakers senior Mateas Silva could not handle. On deuce point at 4-0, Crocker fired an ace up the middle, pumping his fist after the impressive serve.
“(Crocker) was unbelievable,” said Michigan coach Adam Steinberg. “To see him playing like that was a big lift for us.”
Crocker sealed the first set shutout with an emphatic overhead volley. Silva managed to win one game, though, holding serve on an ace at 0-5, 40-30 in the second set.
“I think I got a little tight at the 5-0,” Crocker said. “You kinda feel pressure from your teammates to get that 0-and-0 win.”
Schalet also won his match, 6-0, 6-1, as his shutout bid ended at 1-0 in the second set when his deuce-point forehand clipped the top of the net and dropped on his own side.
Sophomore Alex Knight also pounced on his opponent early with a 3-0 start before cruising to the first set, 6-3. At 4-2, 15-15, he provided a highlight, as he sprinted back to the baseline to retrieve a Benjamin Ugarte lob, and spun a tweener over the head of Ugarte, clipping the back of the line for a winner.
Knight’s second set — as it was for most of the Wolverines — was much more difficult. He went down, 0-2, in a tiebreak and then appeared to hit a service ace, but for the third time in the match, the chair sided with Ugarte and Knight instead double faulted to go down, 0-3. He could not bounce back and dropped the tiebreaker, 1-7.
Michigan went just 2-of-6 in second sets, and it had to rally in third sets to hold on to the early 3-0 lead it had built.
“We need to close out second sets,” Steinberg said. “Leo, Carter and Alex, when we get a 3-0 lead, they need to feel that and step on it and finish that match.”
After jumping out to a 3-0 lead and taking the first set easily, 6-2, sophomore Carter Lin faltered in the second set, losing 5-7. Lin had four match points coming in the third set when Purdue coach Pawel Gajdzik asked the umpire to abandon the match because the Wolverines had clinched the victory.
At No. 1, junior Jathan Malik struggled, losing to Purdue sophomore Gergely Madarasz, 4-6, 5-7. In the first set, the chair umpire miscalled a long serve in on a key point, and Malik held. At 1-0 in the second set, the umpire corrected Madarasz calling a Malik forehand out, and Madarasz erupted. He vehemently denied that the ball had been out, arguing with the chair and holding up two fingers to signal to the umpire that he had blown two calls.
Malik couldn’t make the break hold up, though. At 5-5, 30-40, Malik ran down a Madarasz forehand and hit a drop shot that Madarasz lunged for, scraping his knees on the asphalt and throwing his racquet at the ball. Madarasz lost this point, but his effort ultimately paid off, as he won the next point and the entire match. After building a 5-2 lead in the second set, Malik lost five games in a row to end the match.
Michigan has won at the No. 1 spot only once in its past 10 matches. That one win came on Friday, when Michigan won all of its singles matches in a 4-1 victory over Indiana.
“We need more belief,” Steinberg said. “These guys that we have are playing No. 1 for the first time in their college career. You win at No. 1 and No. 2 a lot (with) what you do off the court. When (Jathan’s) game style becomes more consistent, I think he’d win a match like (today’s).”
Michigan’s depth can carry it past inferior opponents, but against the elite, the Wolverines will need this consistency from the top of their lineup to achieve results.