In an all-Michigan men’s tennis final, junior Gavin Young’s slow start — highlighted by seven unforced errors in a span of nine consecutive lost points — gave fifth-year senior Andrew Fenty apt confidence to hold through the uncomfortable silence of the crowd.
“It was very strange playing (against) my teammate,” Fenty said Thursday. “It was a very mental match … I knew I would get my chances, but I needed to stick around and he’d give them to me.”
Fenty did indeed stick around, pushing past Young in straight sets — 6-4 and 7-6 (6) — and he was given his chances to open the first set with a 3-0 lead. And, after Young broke back and both players held serve through four games, Fenty closed the forehand-dominant set with an ace.
“I was definitely pretty nervous in the beginning of the match, going down a double break early … but the nerves soon went away,” Young said.
It was obvious to everyone when they did.
Young appeared more aggressive to start the second set, relying on his volley in multiple point-winning attacks to the net. But, it only pervaded through a three-game hold, as Fenty squeezed a return ahead of the back baseline to break with a 4-3 lead.
“I sensed (Young) would get off to a bad start,” Fenty said. “But, I didn’t think my level would drop, and it did a lot.”
Fenty’s drop in play guided the back-and-forth battle between the two, but his persistence — through Young’s four set point opportunities — allowed him to force a second set tiebreaker. And, on his own third match point opportunity, Fenty capitalized on Young’s forehand return that fell at the net.
“It’s a unique situation to play your teammate (in the final),” Michigan coach Adam Steinberg said. “(Fenty and Young) have looked better every week, and this was another building block for the season.”
Fenty has refined his modes of mental and physical conditioning since left leg and groin injuries over the summer forced him to retire during a Citi Open qualifying match.
“I’ve strengthened all areas of my body,” Fenty said. “And, (between now and last season), I’m a whole new person, having adopted a new and serious approach to the game.”
This fall, his singles and doubles record is 27-3, while last fall it stood at 12-3. So, with their self-imposed expectation that they can replicate their Big Ten Championship and NCAA Tournament runs, the Wolverines will need Fenty to employ every bit of his reformed mentality.
Yet, in a loss, Young remains confident that he can carry his fall success into the dual season.
“The momentum of the fall is a big indicator of how you start the spring,” Young said. “Having a good match in the final is a confidence booster for the both of us.”
Young, specifically, can point towards his 9-4 doubles and 10-3 singles records as signs of the success he hopes to open the spring with. He’ll be a key part of how Michigan will look to fill the loss of Nick Beaty — who was a constant model of success at the Wolverines’ No. 6 singles position.
For the rest of the team, Steinberg hopes this all-Michigan singles final motivates their talents heading into the spring: “Success in our program should be contagious to everybody.”
And, if Fenty and Young’s results truly are contagious, the Wolverines will have little trouble replicating their success from last dual season.