With the fall season picking up steam, the Michigan men’s tennis team sent three players to compete in singles play at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-American Championships in Tulsa, Okla.
The Wolverines finished the tournament with mixed results, with seniors Andrew Fenty and Patrick Maloney losing their opening matches in qualifying play, while sophomore Gaivin Young advanced to the third round before being eliminated.
Sophomore Jacob Bickersteth was the only Michigan player to play in the main draw.
Bickersteth did not disappoint, pocketing a turbulent 6-7 (4), 7-5, 1-5 victory after his opponent, Stanford’s Trevor Boyer, defaulted as a result of three warnings for behavior.
After receiving two warnings for ball abuse and nearly hitting Bickersteth in the face with a ball after losing a point, Boyer’s frustrations boiled over in the third set.
“I was down 0-5,” Bickersteth said. “I ended up winning that game, and he just completely obliterates his racket and gets coded again.”
Added Michigan coach Adam Steinberg: “I’ve never experienced a match like that in all my years of coaching. It’s a sad ending. It shouldn’t come to that.”
In the second round, Bickersteth found himself in another highly contested match against the No. 15 player in the country, Georgia’s Philip Henning.
Bickersteth stunned Henning with a dominant 6-0 victory in the first set.
“My coaches told me I belong there,” Bickersteth said. “I just tried to come off with a lot of energy, and he didn’t expect me to play that level of tennis. It was probably the best set of tennis I’ve played in arguably my whole life.”
Henning came storming back with a 6-2 victory to tie things up, but Bickersteth’s confidence never wavered, earning a 6-4 victory in the third set and punching his ticket to the round of 16.
“It was fun to watch,” Steinberg said. “The guy from Georgia is a really good player and came back. Jake played a great third set, held serve all the way through…definitely the best match I’ve seen him play as his coach.”
The next day, Bickersteth drew No. 46 Mason Beiler of Oklahoma and, in yet another three-set match, Bickersteth’s run came to an end as Beiler triumphed 6-1 in the deciding set.
In the qualifying draw, Fenty entered as the No. 89 player in the country, pitted against TCU’s Lui Maxted.
For Michigan’s highest-ranked player in the tournament, the tenure in Tulsa was short, as dominant play from Maxted resulted in a 6-2, 6-4 victory.
“He was coming off a sprained ankle,” Steinberg said. “It really affected him. I don’t think he was himself to be honest. (Maxted) is a very good player, and when you’re not one hundred percent, it’s going to be a tough day for you.”
Qualifying play looked similarly bleak for No. 114 Patrick Maloney, as he dropped his first set 6-1 to TCU’s Pedro Vives Marcos.
Maloney stayed strong, taking a 6-4 victory in the second set. Despite the resurgence, Maloney’s comeback fell just short as Marcos earned a 6-4 third-set victory.
“We were really happy with that match,” Steinberg said. “He played a very good player and had a tough first set. But he really found his game the last two sets and played really well.”
Young found himself in a battle against Max McKennon of Arizona State. In a roller coaster of events, Young took the first set, 6-4, before dropping the second, 6-3.
With the Wolverines in jeopardy of ending qualifying play winless, Young delivered, sealing the match with a 6-3 victory in the third set.
“It’s his first time playing these big events,” Steinberg said. “It was a big confidence booster for him. I think he proved he can play with some of the best players in the country.”
Maloney finished his week in Tulsa with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Tulsa’s Callum Gale in the consolation round of qualifying play.
Young continued to show his resolve, eking out a 7-5, 6-4 over Alexander Hoogmartens of UCLA in the second round of qualifying.
But round three was Young’s last, as Baylor’s Tadeas Paroulek emerged with a 6-4, 6-4 victory.
While the Wolverines didn’t take home any individual awards, they learned where they stack up against the best players in the country as they set their sights on team play after the new year.
“We can play with anybody,” Steinberg said. “We’re one of those teams to be reckoned with. It’s important for us to be at those national events to showcase who we have and for the guys to play that level of competition…before our season starts in January.”