Kentucky’s Enzo Wallart prepared to return a serve from Michigan junior Carter Lin in the right corner of the backcourt. Wallart struck the return and the ball torpedoed back over the net, landing just outside of the singles’ sideline. Lin dropped to his knees and the rest of the Michigan men’s tennis team rushed the court, piling on top of each other and tackling the No. 6 singles player as the crowd at the Varsity Tennis Center erupted.
In the final match of the day, with the two teams tied at three, Lin propelled the 18th-ranked Wolverines to a 4-3 victory in a thrilling third-set tiebreaker over the 15th-ranked Wildcats on Saturday.
“That’s why I play college tennis,” Lin said. “That feeling is amazing. Big points and big matches like this, having the whole team with you. Having that pressure, I like it. It’s a good feeling.”
The win gave Michigan (6-1) its third victory over a ranked opponent this season — a major improvement from just two years ago, when the team went 1-7 against ranked competition.
“We’ve come a long way from two years ago,” said Michigan coach Adam Steinberg. “It’s a lot (of emotion). It’s great to see these guys have these types of wins and enjoy all the hard work they put in.
“It’s just a lot. We’ve just started from ground zero and look where we are. A million things go through your head and to see Carter win (the match) like that and the guys enjoy (it), that’s what it’s all about.”
In the decisive, match-winning No. 6 singles matchup, Lin and Wallart stayed fairly even. Wallart took the first set 7-5, and Lin countered with a 7-5 win in the second frame. Lin never led in the third set until the game-clinching tiebreaker, battling back from 0-1, 1-3, 3-4, 4-5 and 5-6 deficits.
It was a hotly-contested match that saw the Kentucky coaching staff argue against several of the officials’ decisions, with the height of the disagreement coming when Wallart received a code violation for arguing a call that gave Lin his second point and moved the third set to a 2-3 score.
“The one thing he did really well was he made me earn every single point,” Lin said. “He didn’t really give me any free points. … He just gave me a tough time. He fought like crazy.”
Sophomore Myles Schalet and junior Alex Knight also added singles points for the Wolverines. The afternoon’s narrative of resilience and endurance was representative in both matches, with Schalet quickly falling behind 0-2 in the first set and Knight trailing 1-3 in the second set of his match. The two would both come back, earning victories in the No. 2 and No. 5 singles matchups, respectively.
The doubles point ended up being the difference maker in the match, which Michigan earned with victories in No. 1 doubles — from senior Jathan Malik and freshman Connor Johnston — and No. 3 doubles — from Schalet and senior Kevin Wong. The Wolverines won both matches assuredly with 6-2 scores.
“I feel like we have found the right matchups,” Steinberg said of the team’s doubles pairings. “It’s not 100 percent yet, but I feel like those three teams (are) good at every position. We feel like we can win at 1, 2, or 3.”
Above everything else, Saturday’s emotional rollercoaster provided the team with a marquee, season-defining victory.
“This is a lot. This is our best win of the year without a doubt,” Steinberg said. “Two of the next three matches are against top-10 teams, so this is a great springboard for that. We needed this, this is the next step in our program.”