The dual-match had long been decided, but you would have thought Alex Knight didn’t know it.
With the second set tied at four games apiece, Princeton’s Luke Gamble had just notched a point to cut Knight’s lead to 30-15. One of Gamble’s teammates cheered obnoxiously from the stands, perhaps a little too loudly for Knight’s liking.
After all, even if Gamble were to win the match, the Tigers (0-1) were about to leave the Varsity Tennis Center with a 5-2 defeat.
And so Knight retaliated, letting the arena quiet down before exclaiming, “Let’s go Blue, 5-1, come on!”
It was a friendly reminder of the dominant day Michigan men’s tennis team was having, and perhaps if you bottled up the Wolverines’ constant intensity into one moment, Knight’s response would be it.
But realistically, it’s no surprise that was Knight’s reaction prior to clinching the final set for the 18th-ranked Wolverines to close out the final set of the day and give Michigan (3-1) a dominant 6-1 victory.
“It’s February 2, so those matches — for him and for our team — have big implications for us,” said Michigan coach Adam Steinberg. “I know that the guys feel a lot better winning 6-1 than 5-2. For (Knight), it’s a confidence thing.
“That really helps him individually going into the next match. I was happy the way he finished there. I told him he played really aggressive, and he did things he really is not used to doing.”
The Wolverines put themselves on track for victory from the get-go, clinching the doubles point in dramatic fashion. Sophomore Gabe Tishman and freshman Connor Johnston won three straight games to open up the No. 3 doubles match, but then lost the ensuing four games.
By that time, the other doubles teams had split matches, and all eyes were on the young Michigan duo. Tishman and Johnston recovered, closing out the match by winning the next three games.
“It puts extra pressure on any team,” Steinberg said. “Everyone knows that depth is our strength. So when we win the doubles point I think other teams feel it, because they’re like, ‘Wow Michigan’s really good one through six.’ So we need that.”
With the doubles point in Michigan’s back pocket, the Wolverines took to the courts for singles play.
The Tigers managed to tie the dual match at one, if only for a moment, when Tom Colautti defeated Michigan’s Carter Lin handily — 6-2, 6-1 — in the No. 5 singles match.
But senior Jathan Malik quickly put the Wolverines back on top, upsetting Alex Day in the top singles match. The pair traded games throughout the first set, but with the set locked at 5-4, Malik finally closed the door on Day.
Malik only improved from there, capturing the second set, 6-3, and setting the tone for the rest of the night.
“For us, me and Myles in the middle today, we’ve just got to try to create the energy for the courts next to us,” Malik said. “And I think we generally did a good job. It’s obviously always a little bit easier when we all won the first set on pretty much every court.”
Just a few minutes after Malik’s victory, junior Davis Crocker gave Michigan a 3-1 cushion, as he notched a convincing 6-4, 6-4 win against Davey Roberts at the No. 6 singles to remain undefeated in singles play this season.
By that point, with the way the dual match against the Tigers was shaping up, the only real competition was between Leo Hua and Myles Shalet to see who could clinch the victory for the Wolverines.
In the end, Hua won that intra-squad battle, eking out a 7-5 victory in the second set against Kial Kaiser after dominating, 6-2, in the first.
Shalet needed a 10-8 second-set tiebreaker to win his own match — also maintaining an undefeated singles record — before Michigan went on to watch Knight’s match.
By then, it was 5-1 in favor of the Wolverines. And Knight filled the silence of the stadium, making sure everybody knew it.
“He’s always got that energy,” Malik said. “I think all of us are thinking right now that this is sort of a pivotal time for us, even though it’s the start of the season. The matches, even when they’re dead rubbers, we want to try and go out and win them.”