It was getting late in Champaign as Michigan’s last match against Ole Miss went to a third-set tiebreaker. With the teams tied at three, the Wolverines’ bid to the ITA National Team Indoor Championship hung in the balance.
A lightning-fast serve and mistakes from the Rebels’ Finn Reynolds helped propel freshman Ondrej Styler, and with him the Michigan men’s tennis team (4-1), to a 4-3 victory Saturday night. Michigan’s 2-0 weekend at the ITA Kickoff –– also featuring a similarly close 4-3 victory over Texas Tech on Friday –– earned them a bid to next month’s tournament in Madison.
“For a freshman to play under that pressure, knowing going to the national tournament was on the line, was incredible,” Michigan coach Adam Steinberg said. “In 30 years I don’t think I’ve ever seen that, with it tied up three-all like we had.”
Friday’s match against the Red Raiders also ended dramatically, with senior Nick Beaty and Texas Tech’s Francisco Vittar set to break the 3-3 tie going into the final singles match. Beaty, who remains undefeated in singles play so far, prevailed on the match point in the third set after initially trailing.
Beaty’s performance in singles play, alongside undefeated junior Mattias Siimar, was an important factor in the Wolverines’ weekend success. On Saturday, the pair’s respective matches gave Michigan an early 3-0 lead before Ole Miss beat sophomores Andrew Fenty and Ryan Fu to narrow the margin.
“(Beaty and Siimar) are our two lefties and they’ve been playing great tennis,” Steinberg said. “For them to get us on the board like that, get us three quickly was very important and it took a lot of pressure off the other guys.”
Michigan, as it did last weekend against Washington and Oregon, showcased its ability to fight for the doubles point in both of the weekend’s matches. The duo of juniors Harrison Brown and Kristofer Siimar alongside senior Connor Johnston and Styler were dominant over the Red Raiders and the Rebels to secure the point.
“We all play for each other and it really shows in the doubles,” Steinberg said. “You know, it’s just one set and it’s tense but that’s when we shine.
“We’re not going to achieve our goals without that doubles point; some think it’s just one point but when you play these really good teams, it comes down to that one point like it did this weekend.”
Despite their successes under Steinberg’s coaching, the Wolverines before now failed to reach his objective of qualifying for the ITA tournament. After consistent success in the spring season, he views it as the natural next step.
“It’s a huge moment for our program,” Steinberg said. “It’s something we’d really set as a goal, to check that box. To play in that tournament is special and how they did it was pretty incredible, so it was a lot of fun to see their faces afterwards in the locker room. They deserve it and have competed incredibly in the past few weeks.”