The weekend’s final match felt strangely familiar to its first two. The No. 13 Michigan men’s tennis team had fallen behind early, but as it proved on Friday and Saturday, the Wolverines showed an ability to rebound.
“They know that no matter if we have a guy down, or we lose the doubles point, that they can come back,” said Michigan coach Adam Steinberg. “… It was the best I’ve ever seen them fight for a match.”
Three matches in three days proved to be a challenge for Michigan, but after succumbing to No. 11 Florida on Friday, 4-2, the Wolverines trounced Harvard on Saturday, 4-0, and overcame No. 23 California on Sunday, 4-1.
Sunday’s doubles point was hotly contested, and the Wolverines looked poised to clinch it. Both No. 1 and No. 2 doubles had substantial leads and seemed to be controlling both matches, but it didn’t last. The No. 3 doubles pair fell, 6-3, and it became a race between No. 1 and No. 2 to see who could clinch the point first for the Golden Bears.
And after a final game plagued by unforced errors, senior Alex Knight double faulted to give California the advantage going into singles play.
The slow start to the day mirrored the slow start of the weekend. In their season opener, the Wolverines battled the Gators to an eventual loss. Michigan’s doubles teams experienced a similar fate Friday, after the duo of senior Runhao Hua and Knight led 6-5 in the tiebreaker — only to lose three consecutive points.
It didn’t take long for freshman Mattias Siimar and senior Davis Crocker to put the Wolverines back on top, though. They notched the first two singles matches to make it 2-1, but no other Michigan players followed suit, and the next three matches off the court were losses.
“Just from a loss you can learn so many things,” said junior Myles Schalet. “Friday we had a lot of chances we didn’t capitalize, but the weekend wasn’t finished, and that’s the great advantage of having three matches in one weekend.”
While Friday didn’t go as the Wolverines hoped, they proved unfazed in Saturday’s match. The individual matches remained close, but they claimed the doubles point and then rattled off three straight singles wins to keep Harvard off the board.
Michigan had rebounded from Friday to Saturday and hoped to keep the momentum going against the Golden Bears. After losing the doubles point, the Wolverines once again had to pick themselves up and battle back — and that they did.
The first three singles matches off the court were Michigan victories, and it needed just one more match to seal the victory. It was not going to be easy, though.
The most crucial point took the longest, but in the end, it was Schalet who clinched the win. He sent his one-handed backhand down the line just out of reach of California’s Paul Barretto and erupted into cheers as his teammates ran to greet him.
“One of the things with our team is belief,” said Michigan coach Adam Steinberg. “We started four years ago from the bottom as you can be, and we’re climbing and climbing and now they just have to really believe that they can achieve the two goals that we have.
“We’ve always had the same — win a Big Ten title and win a national championship. That’s why we came to Michigan. Even though we lost those matches, I told the guys we came close to those type of teams too late in the year, now we’re doing it in January and February, so we have a head start to where we want to go.”