Connor Johnston found himself facing a daunting 5-1 deficit in his second set against Cornell’s Pietro Rimondini.
After a commanding first-set victory, the senior could’ve looked toward the third set for a fresh start.
Instead, Johnston won the next game.
Then he won the five after that to win his match and secure Michigan’s win over Cornell.
“He’s probably the best fighter in college tennis,” Michigan coach Adam Steinberg said. “Connor never gives up. That’s what he does. That’s who he is. He’s hard to put away when you have that attitude and he’s had it for four years.”
The 13th-ranked Wolverines carried that mentality thoughout the weekend, defeating Cornell and No. 9 Columbia, 4-1 and 4-3, respectively.
Saturday, Michigan’s top doubles pair junior Mattias Siimar and sophomore Andrew Fenty — the fourth-ranked duo in the country — remained undefeated with a win over Cornell’s Alafia Ayeni and Lev Kazakov, 6-4.
“They started off the season well,” Steinberg said. “They compliment each other really well. They always have that belief that they can win. You feel it and the other team feels it too.”
The next day, the duo faced off against the No. 5 doubles team in the country, carving out a 7-5 victory over Columbia’s Jack Lin and Jackie Tang, once again securing the doubles point for the Wolverines.
“I know some people think that one point doesn’t matter much,” Steinberg said. “But as you can see, when they score three matches, it matters a great deal.”
Johnston followed up his comeback against Cornell with a gutty three-set-victory, 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, over Columbia’s No. 4 singles, Adam Ambrozy, the next day.
While Johnston’s victory put Michigan in position to hand the Lions their first loss of the season, the ultimate pressure fell onto the shoulders of Fenty, the Wolverines’ top singles player.
Pitted against the No. 20 player in the country, Fenty was tied, 3-3, in the third set with the match on the line.
“I saw Andrew’s face when it was three all and we all walked over to his court,” Steinberg said. “He just lit up. There’s nobody that loves that moment more. Some players shy away from those times. If every match was three all down to him, he would love it. And it comes out in his tennis, he really went for his shots.”
In a series of matches flooded with match-clinching comebacks and clutch third-set victories against nationally ranked players, nothing fazed Michigan.
The Wolverines may have bested two undefeated teams in two days, but they did a lot more than play spoiler. Michigan displayed the grit that has defined its eight-match win streak.
“They have incredible character,” said Steinberg. “I haven’t coached a team in 31 years that fights harder. They’re starting to have a real belief that they can beat anybody.”