By Alex Steinhoff, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 26, 2012
Down 3-0 in the dual, it was now or never for the remaining four Michigan men’s tennis players.
Vanderbilt had just won the doubles point and the first two singles matches of the day to take a 3-0 lead over the Wolverines. Michigan would need every remaining singles player to win his match if it wanted to leave Nashville, Tenn. with a victory.
Freshman Alex Petrone put Michigan on the board first, after defeating Anton Kovrigin 7-6, 6-4. At No. 3 singles, Petrone got off to a rough start, getting broken in his second service game. But he broke back late in the set to force it to a tiebreaker. In the second set, it was Petrone’s turn for an early break. He used the break to his advantage and won the set and match.
Junior Evan King was the next Wolverine finished. After cruising to an easy 6-2 first set lead, King struggled to find his game in the second. The top Commodore player responded with a 6-1 set victory.
“Things were not going well anywhere, except for (King’s) court, so I think he got a little bit distracted seeing what was going on in the other courts,” said Michigan coach Bruce Berque. “I think after he got distracted, he stayed calm and regrouped in the third set.”
But in the third set, it was the higher-ranked and more experienced King who took control. At 2-1, Vanderbilt’s Charlie Jones surrendered the only thing King needed, a break of serve. King quickly went ahead 4-1, before clinching the set 6-3.
Nationally ranked No. 8 King pushed Michigan one step closer to tying the match, leaving the dual result on the line for sophomore friends and doubles partners Barrett Franks and Alex Buzzi.
“We were in a similar situation a couple weeks ago like the Washington match,” Berque said. “Then, we got behind and never really made a run. But today, we really hung in there. Vanderbilt played a great match, but we kept our composure even though we were down."
At No. 5 singles, Franks jumped ahead 4-2. But his opponent didn’t give him another game, as Franks dropped the first set. Franks couldn’t mirror the start he had gotten in the first set, and fell down 3-4. Franks was down three break points, inching closer to defeat.
But Michigan’s No. 5 responded, winning the next five points to tie the set at four, before closing out No. 5 Commodore, 6-4, to enter the decisive third set.
“Once Barrett rallied down a break in the second set, even though we were down 3-0, I thought we actually had a shot to win the match,” Berque said.
Franks won the third set decisively, when he broke his opponent’s serve at 6-5. The win knotted the dual at three matches apiece.
With the dual match in his hands, Buzzi went to work. The Michigan sophomore had to wait before starting play, because Vanderbilt only has five courts. But for Buzzi and his Wolverine teammates, the wait was worth it.
“It was a different situation for me,” Buzzi said. “I had to wait on a match to finish before I went on. I think I handled it pretty well, and I got it done pretty quickly.”
Buzzi made quick work of Alex DiValerio in the first set 6-3, while rooting on his teammate Franks. Once Franks had won his match and tied the dual, all the pressure was on Buzzi to deliver a second set victory.
“He knew this was likely to happen, because we talked about this last night,” Berque said. “We asked him to prepare himself for that situation and he was really ready.”
And Buzzi delivered. With the set at two games apiece, Buzzi took control, winning the next four games en route to a straight set victory. Buzzi’s win clinched the dual for Michigan, in what was a come-from-behind thriller.
“There was a big crowd against me, but I just stuck to the game plan against this guy,” Buzzi said. “I just played my game and pretty much did all I needed to do.”
The win was Buzzi’s second of the season at No. 6 singles, and was Michigan’s fifth, but first on the road. Michigan will continue a stretch of matches away from Ann Arbor when they travel to Hawaii to face the Rainbow Warriors for the second straight season.
“It’s very big to pick up this road win,” Berque said. “It was great for our guys to learn what it takes to win on the road against a quality team. I think it’ll be something that helps us a lot going forward.”