The Michigan men’s tennis team’s hot start Sunday should’ve served as a warning for No. 25 Duke that the ranking didn’t intimidate the Wolverines. After earning the doubles point with a 2-0 sweep, Michigan didn’t let up, sweeping Duke 7-0 to extend a stretch in which the Wolverines are 32-1 over their last five matches.
Michigan juniors Jathan Malik and Tyler Gardiner opened doubles play by taking a 5-0 lead and cruising to a 6-2 win. Sophomore Runhao Hua and redshirt sophomore Alex Knight then completed a rally from being down, 4-2, to take the No. 1 doubles game 6-4 and secure the doubles point for Michigan.
The doubles momentum that Michigan built paid off immediately, as Hua jumped all over Blue Devil TJ Pura, establishing a 5-0 lead in the first set of his singles match before closing it 6-3. Michigan won all six opening sets of singles action, continuing its strong run of play.
The No. 1 singles match, which featured Duke sophomore Nicolas Alvarez, a 2015 All-American and Malik, a British international student in his first year with the Michigan program, did not disappoint. Malik dominated the first set, 6-2, but Alvarez came back with an early break in the second set. Malik got the break back for 4-4 in the second, displaying superior net skills to win break point. Alvarez started showing frustration after being broken in the second set and really appeared flustered when Malik clipped an alley-line from beyond the baseline to gain a 5-4 advantage. A beautiful lob at 5-4, 15-15, sparked the break that clinched the match for Malik. At match point, the crowd clapped for Malik, who kept Alvarez deep beyond the baseline and finished the match with a clinical volley to claim a 6-2, 6-4, victory for Michigan.
“When I play my best, I don’t think there’s very many players in college tennis who can beat me,” Malik said following his impressive performance.
Michigan junior Kevin Wong finished off his Blue Devil opponent quickly, breezing past Ryan Dickerson, 6-2, 6-2. Just minutes after Malik closed out his win over Alvarez, Knight polished off Catalin Mateas, 6-4, 6-2, and the Wolverines went up, 4-0, to clinch the match. The Wolverines clinched the match in only one hour and 52 minutes, sweeping all eight matches that were finished and improving the team’s record to 5-1 overall.
But Michigan did not let up. Hua, a sophomore from Shanghai, ended his strong performance on the day with a commanding 6-4, 6-3 win over Pura, and Michigan sophomore Carter Lin pulled out a tough 3-set match over Duke senior Josh Levine, winning 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.
“We have no seniors, and that’s really unusual, to have the same team returning,” said Michigan coach Adam Steinberg. “My goal was to get these guys together by this year… and I feel like we can go from a good team and become great.”
Regardless of a lack of experience, the Wolverines believe they can succeed.
“We can be the best team in the country,” Knight said. “We know we have a chance to win every spot.”