Men’s tennis is back. And the Michigan men’s tennis team is eager to get back on the court.
The last time the Wolverines faced another opponent was over nine months ago against Boston University. That happens to also be the last time Michigan played an official match in the Varsity Tennis Center in Ann Arbor.
In two short weeks, the sound of squeaking sneakers and emphatic yells will once again fill the Varsity Tennis Center, when the Wolverines host a pool of three other schools for the Intercollegiate Tennis Associate kickoff event.
Michigan is currently ranked fourth in the nation according to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, and thus have earned the privilege of hosting teams including No. 11 Texas A&M, No. 25 Pepperdine and No. 27 Baylor. Match play in Ann Arbor will take place on Jan. 23 and 24.
Before that happens, however, the Wolverines will be making a trip down to Columbus on Jan. 16 to play exhibition matches against Ohio State and Illinois.
“It’s sort of a warmup, an individual event to get the guys ready for the event next weekend,” Michigan coach Adam Steinberg said. “It’s a great tune-up opportunity for them.”
What the squad is lacking in official match play is more than made up for by their recent enthusiasm and anticipation in practice, as the opportunity to get back on the court against other teams draws closer.
“They’re excited,” Steinberg said. “The whole team is back, and we didn’t lose anybody. Tonight they could be ready. Hopefully we stay safe and stay healthy and it all goes well.”
In the fall, the team was able to fully practice together, but the international players remained in their home countries for the semester, bringing Michigan down to eight players. Those international players include senior Harrison Brown from Australia, twin seniors Kristofer and Mattias Siimar from Estonia and sophomore Ondrej Styler from the Czech Republic.
Then, in November, practices were shut down due to COVID-19 protocols. Luckily, with tennis being a relatively individual sport, the players were able to adapt to stay physically fit and mentally focused.
“Our players do a great job, and they have excellent training programs back home,” Steinberg said. “I have seen since they got back that they’ve worked hard, and we’re off and running now.”
When asked about an individual who is looking to make an impact right away after the unusually long offseason, Steinberg was quick with an answer: junior Patrick Maloney.
“(He) has made a huge jump and has really improved a lot,” Steinberg said. “If I had to point to one guy who’s taken the time to improve mentally and physically and in every way, it’s him”
Last year, Maloney posted a 3-4 record in singles and went 1-1 when paired up with Brown in doubles.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him have a really great year for us,” Steinberg said. “He’s definitely gotten better without a doubt. He’s had a lot of injuries during his first two years. Fingers crossed he’s healthy and feeling good and playing really good tennis.
“Their practice has been awesome — the energy, the intensity and the focus has been phenomenal. They’ve done a really great job these past few weeks. They really miss it. They miss playing and competing for Michigan.”