Saturday evening in the Varsity Tennis Center, all in attendance focused their eyes on the matchup between Michigan freshman Patrick Maloney and Oklahoma freshman Mason Beiler.
Up 5-2 in the third set of No. 6 singles, Maloney had a chance to secure the win for his team by extending the Wolverines’ lead to 4-2. Maloney turned to the home crowd in the balcony and his teammates nearby, throwing his hands in the air and yelling, “Let’s go!” trying to raise the energy in the arena and ride its way to a victory for Michigan.
Maloney and Beiler battled, Maloney surrendering another score before defeating his opponent, 6-3, on a forced error. A teammate sprinted onto the court to hug Maloney, who then walked to the net to shake Beiler’s hand.
Victory did not seem so likely early in the match for the No. 24 Michigan men’s tennis team, but it came back to beat No. 18 Oklahoma, 4-2, in its first win over a ranked team this season.
The Wolverines surrendered the doubles point for the first time since their season opener after narrow losses in two doubles sets. Maloney and senior Myles Schalet secured a comfortable 6-2 win at No. 3 doubles. Junior Connor Johnston and sophomore Harrison Brown battled but ultimately succumbed to Spencer Papa and Jake Van Emburgh of the Sooners in a 7-6 loss at No. 1 doubles. Sophomore Mattias Siimar and freshman Andrew Fenty were on the verge of victory up 5-3 at No. 2 doubles, but gave up four straight games to lose 7-5 to Aleksandre Bakshi and Stefano Tsorotiotis of Oklahoma.
Michigan at first looked to be carrying its disappointing doubles performance into singles play, winning the first set in only two of the six singles matches. The Wolverines bounced back in a big way, however. Schalet and Fenty both won their matches in their second set — Schalet with a 6-2, 6-2 win at No. 2 singles and Fenty a 6-3, 6-3 win at No. 3 singles. Siimar, Maloney and Johnston rallied after losing their first set, each winning their second.
The Sooners tied the score 2-2 after senior Gabe Tishman lost in straight sets at No. 5 singles. Siimar answered back, taking the third set at No. 1 singles for a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 win, extending Michigan’s lead to 3-2. So Maloney got to be the hero of the night, coming back after losing the first set for a 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 win at No. 6 singles, clinching the 4-2 win over Oklahoma.
“It was unreal,” Maloney said. “It was awesome. It was just amazing to be with my teammates. We started down 1-0 and we just fought and stuck with each other and it was unbelievable we got the win.”
Michigan coach Adam Steinberg showed pride in how his team played after being down early. The last time the Wolverines fell short in doubles, against No. 22 Alabama, the team’s performance in singles wasn’t enough to overcome the deficit and win the match. Against the Sooners, Michigan managed to come back from a loss in doubles, as well as a poor start in singles, to win.
“The thing I’m most impressed with, we got down first sets on three courts and came back and won the second sets and just showed real mental toughness there and fight and grit,” Steinberg said. “And to come back against real good players was pretty amazing.”
Schalet’s strong performance in doubles and singles played a large role in rallying the team to a win. After the Wolverine’s poor start, Schalet spoke to his teammates to impress upon them that they were still in the game and to motivate them to keep fighting. The senior led by example, bringing his team the lead for the first time that night with his singles win.
After it seemed likely that the Wolverines would start the season with another disappointing loss to a ranked team, Michigan rallied to earn an impressive boost to their resume.
“We’re such a young team and we haven’t had that real big win in a while,” Steinberg said. “And it gives the young guys especially a confidence that, you know what, you play for a really great program and we can be competitive with anybody because Oklahoma has a great team.”