Coming into Friday’s highly anticipated match, the No. 12 Michigan men’s tennis team looked to keep the momentum rolling from its ongoing five-match win streak, including wins against No. 3 Texas Christian University and No. 16 Columbia.
And against a team with equal momentum and its own four-game win streak, the Wolverines (9-2 overall) beat No. 2 Ohio State (15-2), 4-0.
Before the match started with doubles, a standing room only crowd locked in to watch the fireworks.
Both Michigan and the Buckeyes had won the doubles points in their previous four matches, and doubles has especially been a strong point for the Wolverines throughout the season.
The matches were highly contested on all three courts, as both teams were determined to gain an early edge. The second doubles duo of Styler and sophomore Gavin Young broke early in the match, and were able to consistently hold serve and return effectively, taking the match, 6-3.
Senior Andrew Fenty and sophomore Nino Ehrenschneider battled against the nation’s best doubles team of graduate Matej Vocel and junior Robert Cash on court one in an intriguing match with blistering backhands and clever net play. Still, the match did not finish because graduate student Nick Beaty and senior Patrick Maloney prevailed, 6-4, at third doubles, clinching the point for Michigan.
“We’re so deep,” Michigan coach Adam Steinberg said. “… When we win the doubles, the other teams know it’s a big mountain to climb to get four singles off of us.”
As play transitioned into singles, Michigan got off to a quick start, with early leads in five of six singles matches. The only player who did not find success early in his singles match was Maloney. He went down 0-4 in the first set, yet his composure showed no indication of being flustered or lacking confidence. Staring down a frustrating loss, Maloney continuously gave encouragement to Fenty, who was playing on the court next to him.
“I put my focus into helping them win their matches,” Maloney said. “… You always keep the same energy as if you’re up 6-0 or down 6-0 — it’s always the same.”
This team-oriented mindset of refusing to falter mentally, regardless of the constant ups and downs that come with winning and losing points, has come to embody the Wolverines’ season.
“That’s our identity,” Steinberg said., “That’s what we do in practice every day. … They play together as a team better than anyone in the country.”
Michigan took the first set on courts two, five and six. First singles Andrew Fenty and fourth singles Gavin Young both blundered large leads to lose their first sets, while Maloney ended up losing his first set, 6-3. Still, their demeanor showed no signs of defeat or discouragement. With a nuanced strategy change, Fenty was able to implement a more aggressive strategy in the second set, taking the set from fifth-ranked Vocel, 6-3.
The clinching match was sophomore Jacob Bickersteth, who defeated James Trotter, 6-4, in both sets, ensuring a 4-0 sweep for Michigan. Immediately following this clinch, the team stormed Bickersteth’s court in celebration of the pivotal victory.
“This is why you come to Michigan, to play Ohio State,” Maloney said.
In a season in which the Wolverines have already beaten a No. 1 team and now a No. 2 team — and their biggest rival — the win validates the united team culture that Michigan has prioritized establishing.
Now, the Wolverines have to build off that momentum.