Michigan outplayed in regular season finale
In the waning moments of a Sunday match against Iowa, Michigan freshman Patrick Maloney faced the task of keeping his team alive. Down 5-4 in the third set, Maloney knew committing a single error would clinch the overall match for the Hawkeyes.
He tossed the ball high in the air and swung his racket with force, delivering what looked like a strong serve, at least until it landed just outside of the service box. Maloney’s opponent realized instantly that Michigan would be called for a double fault, and he pumped his fist as his teammates sprinted onto the court to celebrate their upset win over the Wolverines.
Following Maloney’s close loss in singles, the No. 19 Michigan men’s tennis team (16-7 overall, 7-4 Big Ten) fell 1-4 to Iowa in the last meet of the regular season, after an uncharacteristically flat performance.
The Hawkeyes (17-9, 6-5) set the tone from the get-go as they dominated the doubles sets, winning 6-0 at No. 1 doubles and 6-3 at No. 3 to clinch the doubles point.
“We have to be way more aggressive in doubles,” said Michigan coach Adam Steinberg. “We have to move harder, we have to move more, we have to get (the doubles point) on the doubles court and it’ll transfer over to singles and really help the guys.”
Losing the doubles point to Iowa set the Wolverines on a downhill course as they entered singles matches. The Hawkeyes won the first set in four out of the six singles matches. And when sophomore Mattias Siimar and senior Gabe Tishman both lost in straight sets, Michigan quickly found itself in a deep hole, down 3-0.
Freshman Andrew Fenty’s performance was the one positive element of the day for the Wolverines. Fenty came back from a poor loss in the first set of his singles match to win the next two and secure a 1-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory at No. 1 singles. That win kept Michigan alive in the match until Maloney’s close defeat and improved Fenty’s record to a team-best 25-5.
“Iowa did great,” Steinberg said. “They played really, really well. I don’t think the guys responded well to their energy, their fight and their tennis, and Andrew was pretty much the only one out there who did. So it’s tough to win a match when you only have one guy really playing to win, and the other guys were playing really tight and not being themselves. … We’ve had a lot of great matches this year as well but today was not one of them.”
Perhaps most surprising about Iowa’s thorough defeat of the Wolverines was the fact that just two days earlier, Michigan played one of its most complete matches all season against Nebraska.
The Wolverines cleanly swept the Cornhuskers, picking up the doubles point and all six singles points for a 7-0 victory. Though Nebraska’s record is poor, Michigan’s near flawless performance in Lincoln was a stark contrast to the team’s showing on Sunday.
Despite the disappointing outcome of the regular season finale, Steinberg was proud of the regular season résumé his team has earned, and how his players managed to earn a top-20 ranking in the nation for most of the year after losing four seniors from 2018.
The Wolverines now have their sights set on the postseason, with the Big Ten Tournament starting play this Wednesday in Ann Arbor.
“It’s a new season, the postseason, for us,” said Steinberg. “It’s a big slate clean. We’re going to have a new attitude and erase this match and go forward, and I know they’re looking at it that way. Especially that we get to host the tournament next week, and the guys always feel very confident at home. I know they really only get one chance out of every 12 years to host the Big Ten Tournament, and this is the perfect time, especially after this match today.”