In the Michigan men’s tennis team’s first dual match last year, the Wolverines suffered a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to Kentucky, leaving the team in a rut at the onset of its season.
“After we lost that first match last year, it took us a while to get the confidence going,” said Michigan coach Adam Steinberg. “When you get the first one under your belt, the guys feel good.”
This year, the Wolverines had different plans. No. 21 Michigan (1-0) shutout Alabama, 4-0, in its regular season opener Saturday evening. The match gave the Wolverines a change of scenery, as their showdown with the Crimson Tide (2-1) took place outdoors at the United States Tennis Association National Campus in Orlando, Fla.
The victory puts Michigan one step closer to eligibility in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Team Indoor Championships. With one win to their name, the Wolverines need just two more match wins next weekend at the ITA kickoff against Oklahoma to earn a spot in the championships.
On Saturday, junior Davis Crocker secured the win for Michigan at the No. 6 singles position, defeating his Alabama opponent in dominant fashion, 6-2, 6-4. Crocker finalized the win in style, slamming a series of crosscourt forehands and backhands, and sealed the deal with a deep backhand volley past his opponent.
The Wolverines claimed the doubles point with the wins of their No. 2 and 3 doubles duos. At the second spot, juniors Runhao Hua and Alex Knight won quickly, 6-1, while at the third spot, sophomore Myles Schalet and senior Tyler Gardiner eked out a 6-4 victory. Schalet and Gardiner were neck and neck with their opponents, but broke serve to take a 5-4 lead before holding Schalet’s serve to win.
Michigan then steamrolled the Crimson Tide in singles, acquiring all three of its singles wins in straight sets. Schalet, Knight and Crocker outperformed their opponents at the No. 3, 5 and 6 singles slots, respectively.
While Crocker’s win sealed his team’s victory, there was still room for improvement to be found across three other matches. The No. 1 doubles team of seniors Jathan Malik and Kevin Wong were tied at 5-5 with their Alabama opponents when their Michigan teammates clinched the doubles point, ending the doubles portion of the match.
Malik and Wong would face the same fate in their singles competition. Malik was down, 3-6, 5-5, at the No. 1 slot, and Wong held a slight advantage of 7-6, 1-1 over his opponent at the No. 2 position when both matches were called off.
Steinberg viewed these matches as too close, and sought more endurance on the courts throughout the competition.
“I would like us to be a little more aggressive and better as a team,” Steinberg said. “I feel like our energy dipped a bit [in the match].”
Though Steinberg hopes to see more from his team, the Wolverines’ Saturday sweep is a promising sign for what is to come in their upcoming season.