The inside of Eck Tennis Pavilion in South Bend, Ind., was silent as freshman Ondrej Styler served the ball to Notre Dame’s Axel Nefve holding onto a 6-5 lead.
Hitting the ball with tremendous force behind it, Styler smoked the ball over the net, where Nefve was unable to react or make any contact.
As the rest of the Michigan men’s tennis team rushed the court, Styler fell to the floor in exhaustion and victory. These were the final moments of the Wolverine’s 4-3 victory over Notre Dame on Sunday.
Michigan, (11-3) was even with the Fighting Irish (5-5) for the majority of play in South Bend, however it was a long battle. Though Michigan took the road win, it came down to a single play.
The No. 2 doubles team of sophomore Andrew Fenty and junior Mattias Siimar completed the Wolverines’ first doubles win of the event. After a string of back-and-forth play, Notre Dame failed under pressure and hit the ball into the netting. Cheers filled the arena as the Fighting Irish threw their heads back in defeat.
After Michigan lost its second doubles set, the score was even. In order to get a point heading into the singles matches, junior Harrison Brown and senior Nick Beaty had to have a strong performance. In a sequence of a few-short range dinks over the net, the Wolverines secured an awkward hit to claim the doubles match, going up 1-0.
“I don’t think we played our best by any means,” Michigan coach Adam Steinberg said. “I told the guys I thought they played with a big heart even though we weren’t playing well. I was happy we got the point.”
The Wolverines went into singles with a stellar lineup and Fenty leading the way at the No. 1 spot. However, it was Beaty who left South Bend with a performance to remember after dispatching his opponent with a score of 6-0, 6-1.
Towards the end of the match, it was only Styler and sophomore Patrick Maloney left to bring Michigan a win. With the Wolverines up 3-2, the competition was still anyones game.
However, after only winning one out of three sets, Maloney left the courts and it was all up to one person. Styler, the player given the most responsibility, was also the player who physically felt the worst. He decided to play while battling a cold.
“In those moments when the team really needs him he likes that moment,” Steinberg said. “He wasn’t feeling well today. He was pretty sick out there. To get through that was incredible to be honest.”
Whether it was a cold or fever, Styler showed no weakness. Winning his first set 6-4 and losing the second 3-6, it all came down to the third. With both players in ready position, Styler pounded the ball and caught Nefve off guard with the sheer power behind his serve. The team piled onto an emotional Styler as his opponent was left sick to his stomach.
The Wolverines have a long season ahead of them but with performances like Saturday’s, they’re capable of beating anyone.
“I think this team can win a national championship,” Steinberg said. “I think they believe that. They proved it indoors. These guys can do great things. I don’t have to tell them that.”