After taking a team picture at the conclusion of its match Sunday, the Michigan men’s tennis team tried to sneak up on its coach, Adam Steinberg, with a Gatorade cooler to dump on him after a 4-0 win over Nebraska. The game secured a perfect home record for the Wolverines and a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament. But just before they were able to, Steinberg turned around and evaded the downpour — the players had to settle for dumping water on Steinberg during a postgame interview instead.
The timing of the Gatorade dump was one of the only things that went wrong for the Wolverines this weekend. Not only did Michigan (8-3 Big Ten, 19-3 overall) shut out the Cornhuskers, but it also beat Iowa 4-0 on Friday.
Though there were many bright spots on the team, the doubles pairings shined especially. The Wolverines didn’t lose any sets all weekend in the doubles matches, which was a point of emphasis for the team after they had lost both doubles points in their two losses the weekend before.
The doubles success this weekend came with some different pairings in the mix than usual. Redshirt sophomore Alex Knight and sophomore Runhao Hua have secured their spot at No. 1 doubles, and juniors Jathan Malik and Kevin Wong have been consistent at No. 2 doubles. But the No. 3 slot has been in flux for much of the year.
Friday, redshirt sophomore Davis Crocker and junior Tyler Gardiner had their match abandoned at 6-6, and Sunday, freshmen Lubomir Cuba and Gabe Tishman won their match, 6-4.
“We have 11 guys that all can play very well, and I just felt like we should keep these guys engaged, and keep them playing,” Steinberg said. “So when it comes to the NCAA Tournament and the Big Ten Tournament, they’ve been out there, they’ve played. I’m not just going to throw somebody in there that hasn’t played in six weeks.
“But (for) the third (doubles) team, we have six, seven, eight guys or more that can play tennis very well.”
Another improvement for the Wolverines this weekend was the success from their top singles competitors.
Malik was winning his match 6-4, 3-5 on Friday before it was abandoned, and Sunday, he won in a tiebreaker, 6-2, 7-6.
All of this, combined with the polishing off of a perfect home record, has Michigan feeling as confident as ever heading into the postseason.
“It’s great,” Malik said. “It gives us so much confidence. To not lose at home is such a great thing, and obviously taking this last win now into the Big Ten Tournament is hopefully going to give us a good opportunity to do well out there.”
But now, even if the Wolverines are confident, the competition will be ratcheted up in the postseason. They will need to learn how to be as successful away from Ann Arbor and the Varsity Tennis Center.
“To beat the top ten teams and to play for a national championship, we have to be there for each other every second of every match of every practice,” Steinberg said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. There’s moments where it’s amazing, and then we kind of falter, sometimes, when things don’t go our way.
“When we change that, we’re going to be the best team in the country.”