With the fall season coming to a close and the spring season rapidly approaching, the Michigan men’s tennis team sent three players to California to compete in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Fall Nationals on Nov. 6. The Wolverines were on a mission to earn respect on a national level and gain momentum before their spring season.
They accomplished just that.
After barely sneaking into the tournament, the doubles team consisting of sophomore Andrew Fenty and junior Mattias Siimar won the consolation bracket of the doubles championship. Their only loss came at the hands of the eventual doubles champions, Dominik Kellovsky and Matej Vocel from Oklahoma State.
“We had an opportunity to keep playing, and keep playing in California,” Fenty said. “It’s snowing (in Ann Arbor) so we were like, ‘Let’s just stay in California.’ ”
This tournament win capped off an impressive fall for the doubles pair of Fenty and Siimar, who posted a 12-2 overall record. This fall season offered the first opportunity for the pair to play together consistently and build their chemistry, after playing together only briefly last season.
“They’ve really come a long way,” said Michigan coach Adam Steinberg. “They played together last year and had some success … and this fall, they really were able to consistently play together, which always helps in doubles.”
Their performance throughout the fall also boosted their national ranking significantly, and they will begin the spring season as the No. 5 ranked doubles pair in the country. With all of their success this fall, they are set up to have a strong spring for Michigan.
“The season is going to be really exciting for us,” Fenty said. “For both the team and for me and Mattias. … We have a lot of expectations this year.”
While this ranking could be seen as a culmination of a great fall, Steinberg wants the Wolverines to be more focused on what is to come. The whole team is working on improving during this respite before their spring season, when the team-scoring matches begin.
“I don’t love rankings, I never have,” Steinberg said. “That’s the last thing they should be thinking about. … It’s the beginning of the year and those rankings will change a lot. They need to focus on getting better otherwise that ranking can change quick.”
The third member of the Wolverines that made the trip out to California was freshman Ondrej Styler. Styler lost in the opening round of the singles tournament, but the opportunity to play in this prestigious tournament should serve as valuable experience in the future.
“(Styler) could be one of the best players in the country for sure,” Steinberg said. “He has that ability, he’s got a great future.”
Styler certainly had some growing pains on the court this fall, particularly with a disappointing early exit in the qualifying rounds at the ITA All-American Championships. But his experience in California should do nothing but improve his game.
“It’s great for (Styler) because he learned a lot for sure,” Steinberg said. “I know when he comes back from Christmas break, he’ll be settled in a lot more in his mind and know what to expect.”
Styler comes to Michigan after being ranked as high as No. 13 in the junior field by the International Tennis Federation. As was demonstrated by his invite to the fall national championships, he’s expected to be one of the Wolverines’ top players come spring.
“He’s going to love playing the dual matches,” Steinberg said. “Ondrej is a guy that has incredible talent. I think he’s in a good place right now and he’s getting used to things.”
Michigan opens up its spring season on Jan. 15 against North Carolina State, a team that finished right behind the Wolverines in the rankings a season ago. This match should be a good litmus test for Michigan, which graduated just two seniors and brings back the core of a team that made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament last spring.
“We can’t go back now,” Fenty said. “We have a lot of expectations for this year. We’re a really good team and we’re expecting the most.”