All year, the No. 21 Michigan men’s tennis team has struggled away from home. This weekend, though, was a different story, as it secured two crucial wins.
The Wolverines defeated Minnesota, 4-1, on Friday, and Wisconsin, 5-2, on Sunday to complete their first successful road trip since March 3, winning away from the Varsity Tennis Center for just the second and third times this season.
“The guys have taken it a little personal, hearing that they can’t win on the road,” said Michigan coach Adam Steinberg following his team’s win at Wisconsin. “It’s been a good thing. We’ve taken it as a challenge. We try to create a great team atmosphere on the road, and I felt we did that today.”
But overcoming road woes was not the only trend that Michigan reversed this weekend. It also overcame losses by the No. 5 and No. 6 singles Sunday, instead receiving a boost from the top of the lineup.
Prior to Sunday, Michigan had been 33-5 at the two lowest singles spots and just 7-12 at No. 1, including only one win at the top spot in the last 11 matches.
“When you start losing at spots over and over again in college tennis, it puts pressure on the other guys, so we needed that big lift,” Steinberg said. “We needed to win at (No. 1) and (No. 2) to take the pressure off the bottom of the lineup. It can’t be up to them every time.”
The Wolverines got off to a quick start Sunday, earning the doubles point with wins at No. 1 by redshirt sophomore Alex Knight and sophomore Runhao Hua and at No. 2 by junior Jathan Malik and junior Tyler Gardiner.
Michigan improved to 14-0 on the season when it earns the doubles point and is just 3-4 when it doesn’t.
“Our singles lineup is so deep, it’s very difficult for any team to get four points off of us,” Steinberg said. “It’s such an advantage to get that (doubles) point. We’ve really made it a priority.”
In a match that featured a few slight lineup adjustments, Alex Knight played No. 1 for the first time since March 27 against Ohio State, and he defeated Badgers sophomore Josef Dodridge, 6-3, 0-6, 6-1. Knight improved his season record at the No. 1 spot to 3-3.
Malik usually plays at the No. 1 spot for Michigan, but he played at No. 2 and fought past Wisconsin sophomore Lamar Remy, 6-4, 6-4. Malik improved his record at the No. 2 spot to 3-0. He is 5-9 playing No. 1.
Wolverines junior Davis Crocker and freshman Myles Schalet lost at No. 5 and 6, respectively. Michigan lost at both of these spots in the same match for just the third time this season. The first two of these occasions came in losses to Notre Dame and No. 4 Ohio State.
Friday, Michigan also earned the doubles point and cruised past Minnesota, 4-1. The Wolverines reclaimed the Little Brown Jug for the first time since the 2010 season.
Malik played No. 1 on Friday and was the only Michigan player to lose, dropping his match to Minnesota sophomore Matic Spec, 3-6, 4-6.
After sweeping this weekend’s road trip, the Wolverines are back on the road next weekend, taking on conference heavyweights No. 13 Northwestern and No. 15 Illinois.
“This is why we play college tennis,” Steinberg said. “This is why we practice, for these moments. We’re really excited to go (to Northwestern and Illinois) and see what we can do. I feel like (my guys) wish they could play tomorrow.”
Michigan hopes to parlay this energy into another successful weekend away from Ann Arbor. After finally dispelling the notion that it can’t win away from home, it is now ready for its biggest road test of the season.