By Lev Facher, For The Daily
Published October 23, 2012
The Michigan men’s tennis team didn’t perform well at the ITA Regionals in East Lansing, but for sophomore Vlad Stefan, the weekend can be considered a success.
Stefan upset senior Evan King in the quarterfinals and eventually gave Michigan an unexpected representative in the tournament’s final round.
King, the reigning Big Ten men’s tennis athlete of the year, won three consecutive matches — each in only two sets — leading up to the quarterfinal. Friday, he defeated Notre Dame’s Wyatt McCoy before picking up two victories on Saturday against Alex Pasareanu of Northwestern and Kevin Metka of Ohio State.
Stefan, ranked 53rd nationally, defeated Wisconsin-Green Bay’s Erik Finkenbrink in two sets on Friday. On Saturday, he beat DePaul’s Sten Levsink and 60th-ranked Connor Smith of Ohio State, pitting him against his teammate in the quarterfinals.
Sunday, the all-Michigan quarterfinal saw King, ranked fourth, drop consecutive sets to Stefan, 6-3, 6-4. Michigan coach Bruce Berque saw Stefan’s win as the weekend’s high point.
“It’s a little weird sometimes for guys to be playing their teammates in matches,” said Berque. “Vlad was probably our fourth-seeded player, and he got all the way to the finals.”
Stefan agreed that playing a match against his teammate King threw him off guard.
“Playing Evan was kind of weird for both of us because we’re teammates and we’re friends," Stefan said.
“I don’t think he played his best tennis. None of us played our best tennis."
Stefan, who transferred to Michigan after spending his freshman year at Maryland, noted that his service game has improved since he arrived in Ann Arbor, which he knows contributed to his success in the tournament.
In the tournament’s final day on Monday, Stefan defeated Tim Kopinski of Illinois in the semifinals in two sets, 6-3, 6-2, setting the stage for the singles final against Kobelt.
Stefan dropped the first set of the championship match 6-3, but rebounded to take the second set 6-4. However, Stefan fell flat in the deciding set, and fell to the 35th-ranked Kobelt, 6-1.
“I had confidence in my game,” Stefan said. “The final was not as good. The third set, I didn’t play that well.”
Two of Michigan’s other competitors in the tournament fell flat in the first round. Junior Spencer Newman and sophomore Alex Petrone both suffered consecutive upsets Friday and Saturday, with each losing to unranked opponents in both first-round and consolation matches.
Newman stumbled in Friday’s loss to Chris Jackman of Northwestern, losing 3-6, 7-6, 6-1, and fell to Michigan State’s Drew Lied 6-3, 6-3 in a consolation match.
“The court surface there is so fast,” said Berque. “(Newman) just came in not playing well. He had a hard time getting a rhythm going.”
Petrone lost his first-round match to Wisconsin’s Oskar Wikberg, 6-4, 7-5 on Friday and was defeated by Notre Dame’s Mike Moore in a consolation match Saturday in three sets, 6-3, 4-6, 10-8.
Newman was ranked No. 31 headed into the weekend, while Petrone was ranked No. 51.
“We were disappointed with the overall results of the tournament,” said Berque. “(Newman and Petrone) just didn’t play very well, to be honest.”
Junior Barrett Franks lost to 66th-ranked Aaron Pfister of Michigan State on Saturday before bouncing back to beat Notre Dame’s Nicolas Montoya in two sets Saturday, 6-2, 6-4.
Berque minimized the impact of the disappointing weekend, pointing to Petrone’s health and Newman’s lack of momentum as potential reasons for the tournament’s letdowns.
“(Newman) was probably pressing a little bit,” said Berque. “I know he’s gonna work hard and get his game back to where we know it can be.
Berque noted that Petrone has not been 100-percent physically, and Stefan sees that hindering the team’s overall performance.
“Most of us are struggling with injuries,” said Stefan of his teammates. “They weren’t expected to have amazing results right now.”