Tennis faces tough challenge hosting Duke and Texas

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By Matthew Kipnis, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 6, 2014

Though the bulk of conference play hasn’t begun, the Michigan men’s tennis team may already be in the middle of its toughest stretch of the entire season, and handling the string of upcoming opponents may be the Wolverines’ biggest challenge yet.

Michigan (3-2) has lost two straight matches after winning its first three. The Wolverines are coming off a three-game stretch against top-30 teams in which they earned only one victory, and it won’t get any easier.

Eight of Michigan’s next nine opponents are nationally ranked. Friday night, the Wolverines will have their hands full with No. 10 Texas, and Sunday afternoon, they’ll face off against No. 13 Duke and Youngstown State.

“We are the in the middle of a really difficult stretch in our season,” said Michigan coach Bruce Berque. “We’ve got some good teams coming up, so we are going to have to stay tough. We are not going to win them all. We may win some, we may lose some, but if we can win half, it will put our team in a great position.”

The Wolverines do have an advantage in that seven of the nine matches will be played at home in the Varsity Tennis Center. Michigan is 75-25 at home since 2005.

“It’s like any other sport — there is a little bit of an edge to playing at home,” Berque said. “They are in their surroundings, and the players are familiar with the court speed and at the home crowd. Our guys are in front of supporters, but at the end of the day, we still have to put a good product of tennis on the court.”

Seniors Shaun Bernstein and Alex Buzzi have some experience with Sunday’s opponents. On Oct. 18, they defeated Rodrigo Campos and Silviu Misreanu of Youngstown State 8-4 in the first round of the ITA Regionals. Bernstein and Buzzi eventually lost in the third round of the main doubles draw.

“They haven’t been playing together as a team since then, but it could help a little,” Berque said. “It is always nice to have a little familiarity with the opponent.”

Although Michigan didn’t get to play Texas in the Key Biscayne Individuals in January due to poor weather canceling many players’ flights, they were able to scout a few Texas players live which could help them Friday night.

In order to pull out victories, the Wolverines will need solid play from their doubles teams. The doubles unit is lead by the undefeated senior team of Buzzi and Barnett Franks, who have helped the team earn doubles points in each of their first five dual matches this season and an overall 10-2 doubles record.

Michigan also hopes junior Alex Petrone and senior Barrett Franks can continue their hot play. After losing his first match of the season, Petrone has won his last four, two of which came against ranked opponents. Franks has won three of his first four singles matches to start the year.

“We will be looking at the lineup and try to figure out which are the six guys we have to put on the court,” Berque said.

Against such stiff opposition, the Wolverines will need consistent play from their six singles matches to halt their losing streak. If they falter, the schedule ahead doesn’t get any more forgiving.