Everyone huddled around the No. 1 singles court, anticipating that junior Ondrej Styler would clinch another victory for the Michigan men’s tennis team — just as he had in all three matches last weekend during the Big Ten Tournament.
And with all eyes on him, Styler did exactly that. Not only did he clinch Michigan’s (24-3 overall, 8-1 Big Ten) 4-0 sweep of the Sooners (15-10) in the NCAA Tournament’s second round, but he also locked up home court advantage for an NCAA Super Regional.
Styler didn’t wait to make his mark either.
On his first match point, he delivered an ace to win in straight sets, giving the Wolverines their fourth requisite point to best their second opponent in two days.
“At any point in the match, I feel that we can win at all (singles) positions,” Styler said. “(This feeling) gives me the confidence and time to focus on my own game.”
His feeling was certainly right: five of six Michigan players won their first sets.
Even so, the Wolverines didn’t need all five of those wins, anyway. Instead, their polished doubles play opened a path to a dominant victory over an undermanned Oklahoma team.
Kickstarting Michigan’s 22nd earned doubles point this season, graduate student Nick Beaty and senior Patrick Maloney handily outplayed their Sooner opponents — cruising to win their No. 2 doubles match, 6-0. Meanwhile, the other doubles courts held back-and-forth scoring affairs until Michigan’s No. 1 and No. 3 pairs posted 5-3 leads thanks to back-to-back unforced errors by Oklahoma.
Styler didn’t allow the Sooners to capitalize on their opportunity to break, serving an ace to win, 6-3, and giving the Wolverines their first point.
“We feel like our serving is a strength of our team,” Michigan coach Adam Steinberg said. “It’s really important (to grab) free points, and it takes the pressure off always having to grind every single point out.”
Serving truly bled through the Wolverines’ plan of attack against Oklahoma.
Before sophomore Jacob Bickersteth delivered an ace to finish his first set (6-2), sophomore Nino Ehrenschneider took the deciding point with an ace to stamp his dominating 6-0 first set victory. As the youngest Michigan players to be slotted into both the singles and doubles lineups versus the Sooners, they led the charge, and their teammates followed.
After Styler emerged victorious in his first set, 6-4, Maloney captured set point with an ace to win his first set, 6-4. Then Beaty carried the momentum of an ace to kickstart a 7-5 comeback win.
“I think I came out a little sloppy (because of the wind),” Beaty said. “Once I got my feet moving … and trusted myself to swing out more, my confidence shifted by feeling more positive.”
The Wolverines’ confidence, predicated on an aggressive style of play, continued into their second sets. Like his performance in doubles play, Ehrenschneider headlined this charge.
“(Ehrenschneider has) had a lot of injuries to deal with,” Steinberg said. “Now, he’s healthy, and, when he’s healthy and feeling good … his work ethic is unmatched.”
Ehrenschneider seized three consecutive break points to take a quick 5-0 lead — coming atop a 14-shot rally to win the first, striking a powerful return to grab the second, and keenly placing a backhanded shot to take the third.
Two games later, on his match point, Ehrenschneider attacked the net after three shots and forced Sooner Welsh Hotard to put too much into a return that sailed well out of bounds. Seconds after his 6-0 and 6-2 win notched Michigan its second point, Bickersteth expanded the Wolverines’ lead to 3-0 — as he also won in straight sets, 6-2 and 6-2.
Then Styler finished the job.
Between the Big Ten Tournament and its first NCAA Tournament weekend, Michigan has turned to Ehrenschneider for an early spark and to Styler for the closing finish.
“That combination of talent and hard work is what everyone sees,” Steinberg said.
Now, for only the second time since 2016, the Wolverines will advance to the Super Regional in hopes of continuing their seven-match win streak.
“(These guys) play much braver on the big points,” Steinberg said. “Now, I see a totally different game style and confidence that we have been pushing for for years.”