Senior Patrick Maloney didn’t need to look as the final ball soared high above his head — He knew.
He knew that the ball was headed outside of the field of play. And it seemed like everyone else knew from the matchup’s opening serve that the Michigan men’s tennis team was capable of eclipsing Western Michigan in its NCAA Tournament first round affair.
And that’s exactly what the Wolverines did.
Playing at home, Michigan (23-3 overall, 8-1 Big Ten) blanked the Broncos (15-9, 9-1), 4-0, advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“We take a lot of pride in our doubles,” Michigan coach Adam Steinberg said. “I know the guys wanted to bounce back and (winning the doubles point) was a great start.”
In last week’s Big Ten Championship match, Michigan lost the doubles point to Ohio State, but it recovered in a big way; Maloney and graduate student Nick Beaty held Western Michigan’s No. 2 doubles scoreless in one set, 6-0.
And against the Broncos, the rest of the team brought that same fire.
After capturing their first service game, Maloney and Beaty used a flurry of moves to earn game and break points against their opponents, including two smash hits, an ace and a ball that squeaked down the line. On match point, Western Michigan’s Joaquin Caballer was unable to match Beaty’s smooth backhand, sending his return into the net.
In less dominant — but still effective — fashion, the other Michigan duos led their Bronco opponents from start to finish. Two games after junior Ondrej Styler executed an ace to give the Wolverines a 3-2 lead at No. 3 doubles, senior Andrew Fenty delivered four straight aces at No. 1 doubles to extend a different lead, 5-2.
“This definitely hasn’t been my best year,” Fenty said. “I’ve worked on my serve a ton this year … and, today, it showed.”
The Wolverines also showed their relentless aggression across their singles matches.
En route to a 6-0 first set victory, Beaty bounced back from a 15-40 deficit in his fourth game. Fenty added to Michigan’s collection of sweeps, emerging victorious in his first set, 6-0, by way of a powerful backhand fitted just inside the right corner boundary.
While Styler, Maloney and Bickersteth all cruised in their first sets 6-3, sophomore Nino Ehrenschneider faced adversity as he recovered from a three game deficit to surpass Western Michigan’s Benjamin George, 7-5.
“It’s always tricky to play a lefty as a lefty,” Ehrenschneider said. “I kind of started way too tight, a bit flat … but I stayed composed and mentally tough.”
And, even when the Wolverines faced more resistance in their second sets, they stuck to their aggressive and intense style of play.
Michigan understands what sustains second set success.
“Attacking second serves, taking it to them, playing the way you want to play (and a belief that) you’ll be successful,” Ehrenschneider said.
Beaty reinforced the effectiveness that this style of play has, responding to a 1-0 second set deficit by holding serve in straight points.
Meanwhile, Fenty repeated his serving success from his doubles match by finishing three games with aces, including his match point. His straight sets victory, 6-0 and 6-3, delivered the Wolverines their second point and brought them one step closer to victory.
Styler also secured his match point with an ace — finishing his two sets, 6-3 and 6-3 — to give Michigan a 3-0 lead.
With Ehrenschneider’s match — which was early in its second set — being the only remaining match on Styler and Fenty’s side of the Varsity Tennis Center, all eyes turned to the other side for the match-clinching point.
And everyone, including Steinberg, looked to Maloney to strike an end to Western Michigan’s season.
“(Maloney’s) playing in a spot that he hasn’t played before, so it’s really nice to see him taking advantage of that opportunity,” Steinberg said.
Now, Michigan will look to replicate this success in the second round, something it’s surpassed just once since 2016.
“(The players) have so much belief, which we really didn’t have in the past like these guys have now,” Steinberg said. “The wins they’ve had this year … have just given them this foundation of belief (where), no matter where they play or who they play, they’re confident.”
And if they can use this win to boost their confidence even further, the Wolverines have a chance to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.