When you win a top-six showdown as convincingly as the No. 5 Michigan men’s tennis team did Thursday, things inevitably get loud.
Playing in front of a home crowd, the Wolverines thrived on the noise, getting vocal themselves and echoing a constant stream of encouragement to teammates despite each athlete being locked into their own match. This is a team that flourishes off each other en route to success, but against No. 6 Tennessee, one connection stood out:
The connection between fifth-year Patrick Maloney and senior Ondrej Styler.
“Me and (Styler) are really close off the court,” Maloney said. “So I think that helps a lot on the court. Just being such good friends and stuff. We’ve got to know each other’s games really well.”
The pair of upperclassmen started the evening with a 6-4 doubles win over the Volunteer’s team of Shunsuke Mitsui and Pat Harper. Although this marks only the fourth time Maloney and Styler have played together as a doubles team, they’re currently 4-0 and have yet to show signs of stopping.
Their doubles success transferred into singles play. Maloney, playing adjacent to Styler’s court, overpowered his opponent with a barrage of forehand rockets. He ultimately won 6-4, 6-3.
Styler also took care of business, using crafty play and a level head to overcome several breaks and a strong performance from the Volunteers’ Emile Hudd. Styler came back from a 4-1 deficit in the first set tiebreaker, taking control in the second set and cruising to a 7-6, 6-2 victory.
Both Maloney and Styler going undefeated on the day was impressive, but equally notable was the dialogue that ran between them throughout the evening. Raucous yells of encouragement occasionally echoed through the Varsity Tennis Center, but the nature of their connection throughout singles matchplay came across as robust and focused.
“They’ve been playing together for four years and they’re great friends off the court, and it shows on the court,” Michigan coach Adam Steinberg said. “It’s great when they play next to each other. It obviously helps them and helps the team and they see great tennis coming from both of them. It’s a big lift.”
As Steinberg suggested, the connection between Maloney and Styler is largely predicated upon a shared level of skill and veteran experience that only comes with time. Both are upperclassmen, and both were heavily involved in Michigan’s success last year, including a 25-4 record and a first place finish in the Big Ten Tournament.
Playing side by side, they are an intimidating duo. Maloney is 6-foot-3 while Styler sits at 6-foot-5, meaning that their reach extends to even the furthest corners of the court. Add in a powerful serve game and it’s a one-two punch that is tough to beat.
“We both take pride in our serves and big hitting,” Maloney said. “If we can just dominate and dictate what’s going on and control what we can control, I think we’ll get the job done.”
While Steinberg has shown that he isn’t afraid to switch up doubles pairings among his best players, the perfect doubles record shared by Maloney and Styler is compelling. As Michigan heads into several tough matchups, they’re a duo the team can lean on.
Their connection on the court didn’t appear overnight, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere either.