Men’s tennis shakes off early struggles to beat Minnesota
Frustration fairly rolled off the shoulders of the Michigan men’s tennis team on Sunday. Dropping two of three doubles matches, the No. 15 Wolverines (2-1 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) relinquished the first point of the afternoon’s competition to Minnesota (0-2, 0-2), and their displeasure was evident.
But they used that displeasure to mount a dynamic comeback, eventually winning the meet, 6-1.
Early in the matches, the doubles point had seemed a fairly safe bet for Michigan, as junior Andrew Fenty and senior Mattias Siimar leapt out to an early lead in the No. 1 doubles match. Fifth-year senior Connor Johnston and senior Kristofer Siimar quickly followed suit in the No. 3 match. But as the No. 2 pair, senior Nick Beaty and sophomore Ondrej Styler, fell behind quickly and Fenty and Siimar began to falter, the momentum quickly swung the other way.
“When you lose the doubles point, it’s so important to get the momentum back pretty quickly,” Michigan coach Adam Steinberg said.
With their backs against the wall, the Wolverines did just that. They went into singles play aggressively, serving harder and returning quicker, and the tone changed almost immediately. Five of Michigan’s six singles players won their first sets. Siimar, Beaty, Styler and junior Patrick Maloney all went on to win the first sets of their respective matches, helping to further shift the tide of the competition back towards the Wolverines.
The difference these victories made was palpable.
“The beginning of the singles made the biggest difference,” Steinberg said. “After losing the doubles point, we were able to turn it pretty quick, so I was proud of our guys.”
Still, though, the afternoon was not without its fraught moments. At No. 6 singles, freshman Jacob Bickersteth dropped his first set, 2-6. After starting strong by winning the first set of his singles match, 6-2, Fenty dropped the second, 2-6. Both matches went on to a third tie-breaker set. Additionally, the line judge made a contentious call against Styler on his first match point, leading to an animated exchange of words between the coaches.
But as it began to rally, Michigan found its rhythm on the court and overcame the missteps that caused them issues in the doubles play.
“At the beginning of my singles match, I wasn’t feeling that well on my court, but at the same time I was trying to be positive and get myself into my match as soon as possible,” Styler said. “And I did that successfully today, and as soon as I went up in the scores, I was just keeping the momentum in my game.”
The Wolverines are still working to round back into form following the mandatory two-week COVID-19 pause. The mentality is there, Steinberg said; the physicality will come. Especially in doubles, they are capable of playing better tennis — and they know it. Steinberg is confident that those changes will come with time as his players return to a more regular practice routine, though.
“We’re not playing the best we can play, but I think attitude-wise and fitness-wise, we’re back in there, for sure,” Steinberg said. “At times, the guys are amazing, but there are too many lulls. For us to be great, that’s what has to happen. And it’ll happen.”
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