Through two weekend victories, women’s tennis clinches a spot in the Sweet 16

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By Jason Rubinstein, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 12, 2013

The Michigan women’s tennis may not be the tallest or the strongest team in the country, but put any one of its athletes together and it’s enough to make it make it one of the most feared.

In their first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, the 10th-ranked Wolverines blanked both IPFW and Notre Dame, 4-0, winning both doubles points en route to the victories. Saturday’s win over Notre Dame (18-9) clinched Michigan’s (10-1 Big Ten, 23-5 overall) fourth-straight Sweet 16 bid.

“Notre Dame is tough, but we shut them down,” said Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein.

And like they’ve done in the past, the Wolverines used the doubles point to get off to a strong start against the Fighting Irish. This season, they have been a perfect 17-0 when winning the doubles point, so it was clear what winning it meant for their success.

“Winning the doubles point both days really helped us mentally going into the singles,” Bernstein said. “Notre Dame is a big rival, so it’s big to have come through today.”

Leading the way for Michigan was the nationally ranked No. 6 pair of sophomore Emina Bektas and junior Brooke Bolender. The seasoned duo earned an early lead, and never looked back, winning 8-3 at the top spot.

Things looked different at the third spot. Freshman Ronit Yurovsky and sophomore Kristen Dodge couldn’t find a way to hold serve, losing 8-4, putting all the pressure on its second pair, senior Mimi Nguyen and sophomore Sarah Lee.

At first glance, the Wolverines’ second pair looks unconventional and odd. But it is the fusion of polar opposite playing styles that leads their success. The style of play was a huge facet in Lee and Nguyen’s 8-5 victory over Notre Dame.

“We work really well together because (Nguyen) is really good at the net, but I’m better at the baseline,” Lee said. “We have opposite game styles, but they complement each other well. She’s crafty and doesn’t play with a lot of pace, while I try to hit hard and be as aggressive as I can, working my way to the net.”

After some early season struggles at forming formidable doubles pairs, Bernstein made it clear that the Nguyen-Lee pairing is a huge reason for Michigan’s doubles success.

But the domination didn’t end there.

Though suffering a loss in doubles, Yurovsky showed the Ann Arbor crowd why she was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Despite dropping a break on her first serve to the Fighting Irish, Yurovsky rallied to win 12-straight games en route to a 6-2, 6-0 victory.

“Ronit was unbelievable today,” Bernstein said. “The girl from Notre Dame makes you play a lot of balls, but Ronit overpowered her. Ronit getting the point on the board was huge; all of the other girls saw she got off the court quickly, which eased the pressure.”

Quickly after Yurovsky’s display of excellence, Bektas took matters into her own hands, cruising past Notre Dame's Britney Sanders, 6-3, 6-3.

Needing just one more victory to clinch the meet, and a berth into the Sweet 16, Lee came up huge for the Wolverines, swiftly winning 6-4, 6-0.

“I had a rough start,” Lee said. “But I kept my energy up and stayed as positive as I can. Positive body language really helped turn the match around. I jumped on her while I could, kept my focus and pounded the ball.”

With Lee’s win, Michigan clinched the match, but with the combination of her teammates, Michigan sure showed its might.