With the doubles point about to be decided, nobody on the No. 18 Michigan men’s tennis team was sure if they would be taking the early lead because all three doubles matches against South Florida went to a tiebreaker.
Juniors Alex Knight and Runhao Hua were the first to end their match. The pair dominated their tiebreak, winning 7-6 (7-3). Soon after, senior Jathan Malik and freshman Connor Johnston clinched their match, too, winning 7-6 (7-5) to give Michigan the 1-0 lead.
After claiming the doubles point, the Wolverines (4-1) didn’t look back, beating the Bulls, 6-1.
“I don’t think in all my years of coaching I’ve ever been involved in three tiebreakers like that,” said Michigan coach Adam Steinberg. “It was fun, it was awesome (to) just be aggressive at those moments, you know, because the other team, they’re feeling the same things. But we’re at home, we have our home crowd behind us, and we need to use that.
“I thought we did a good job of playing aggressive and moving a lot during the tiebreak, especially early on.”
Malik and Johnston’s performance was especially important, as the pair don’t typically play together. Malik’s usual partner, senior Kevin Wong, left the team briefly to play in an individual amateur tournament.
Yet, Johnston has filled in nicely, and though his boisterous style differs from Malik’s, the two have meshed to balance each other out.
“I think it’s good for Jathan,” Steinberg said. “It lifts him. I think it’s good for Connor, too, because there are times that he needs to settle down a little bit.”
Added Malik: “I guess I need to be a little more like (Johnston) on occasion. He does a great job, keeps the energy high. I think I’m the one who, maybe, reins in the focus a little bit more when we’re going back to the line to serve and stuff.”
Similarly to the doubles point, some of the singles matches were in doubt until the very end. In the No. 6 singles match, junior Carter Lin took the lead in the third set, 5-4, but went on to lose the next two points and looked to be in danger of having to go to a tiebreaker.
The junior was able to battle back, though, and won the third set, 6-4, to clinch the match-deciding point for Michigan.
“He’s one of the best fighters I’ve ever coached in all my years,” Steinberg said. “No matter what the score is, no matter what stage of the match it is, we know that he gives everything on every point. That’s who he is. No matter what the situation is, I always have confidence in Carter.”
The Wolverines will now travel to take on Columbia next Friday, and with the experience in close matches they gained Sunday, it seems they are prepared for any type of match.