Confidence seemed to be radiating from the Michigan men’s tennis team on Sunday as it defended its home court to continue climbing up the Big Ten leaderboard.
The energetic Wolverines (6-1 Big Ten, 16-4 overall) surged into sole possession of second place in the conference standings after two home wins against Minnesota (4-3, 15-6) on Friday, 5-2, and Wisconsin (4-2, 14-4) on Sunday, 4-0.
Strong doubles play was crucial for the Wolverines to find success against the Badgers. On the No. 1 doubles line, senior Jathan Malik was paired with freshman Connor Johnston — a potentially daunting place for such a young player.
But not for Johnston.
After being up 5-2 and having the opportunity to seize the match, Johnston and Malik squandered the game, giving Wisconsin hope. But that didn’t faze Johnston, as he and Malik took the next game and the match, 6-3, to secure the doubles point for Michigan.
“I definitely use energy to my advantage,” Johnston said. “I try to win points and just go as crazy as I can and I feed off of that. The crazier I go, the better I play.”
Johnston’s role is strictly in doubles play for now, but the energy he creates clearly benefits his team.
The Wolverines are 15-0 on the season when securing the doubles point, and senior Kevin Wong stepped up to make sure they wouldn’t suffer their first blemish Sunday.
Capitalizing on an early opportunity, Wong found his groove to break his opponent and take a 4-1 lead in the first set. Although things seemed to be smooth for Wong, Wisconsin freshman Chase Colton fought back to win three straight games and lock up the first set at four all. However, Wong’s experience proved to be too much for Colton, as he surged to a 6-4, 6-4 win to give the Wolverines one of three singles wins to take the match, 4-0.
“I was proud of him today,” said Michigan coach Adam Steinberg. “He’s had an injury and the last few weeks he hasn’t really played much singles, and to come out in these conditions with a win against a really good player from Wisconsin, that was a big lift for us. I thought if we gave out an MVP for today, it’d be him.”
Michigan has been dominant in Big Ten play, but it doesn’t want the train to stop chugging.
“Obviously it’s not our goal,” Steinberg said. “Our goal is to be number one, so that’s what we are trying to do and what we are really focusing on.”
With just four matches left before the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan’s play has been stellar enough to potentially take the top spot, but the Wolverines must continue to bring a high level of energy if they want their goals to become results.