The No. 7 Michigan men’s tennis team had knocked off a ranked team on the road twice before this season. Fresh in the Wolverines’ minds were wins over TCU and Northwestern, and they seemed well on their way to a third by sweeping the opening service games in their doubles matches versus No. 2 Ohio State.
Seeking its 14th straight victory, Michigan (16-3 overall, 6-1 Big Ten) suffered a close loss to Ohio State (21-2, 6-0), 4-1, with sophomore Jacob Bickersteth registering the Wolverines’ sole point.
“We let them attack way too much,” Bickersteth said. “The doubles point was kind of the momentum shifter. They took it to us, when we usually take it to them.”
This time, they lacked aggression to pull off a win. After allowing Ohio State’s No. 1 and No. 3 doubles to take 2-1 leads, Michigan failed to adjust with attacks at the net, ultimately falling to the Buckeyes.
In the end, senior Andrew Fenty sailed a shot over the heads of Ohio State’s Matej Vocel and Robert Cash, breaking Michigan’s 12-match streak of earning the doubles point and, more importantly, putting the Wolverines in a 1-0 hole at the start of the match.
“Going up 1-0 can give a team confidence, especially in a match-up like this when it’s really close and two top teams play each other,” Michigan coach Ben Becker said. “But we still had a lot of belief in each other that we could come out with four points in singles.”
A glimmer of such belief did show, as Michigan split its first singles sets with the Buckeyes. Graduate student Nick Beaty’s smooth, 6-1, first set win let the Wolverines know they still held a fighting chance.
Losing the crucial doubles point, however, ultimately served as the precursor to the match’s final outcome.
“We needed the three guys who won their first sets to hold their leads,” Bickersteth said. “We would have won the match actually because I came back in the third.”
At first, that outcome seemed within their grasp.
Cruising in their first sets were junior Ondrej Styler, 6-3, senior Patrick Maloney, 6-2, and Beaty, and they got exactly the help they needed from Bickersteth to retain four points in order to clinch a victory.
Things quickly changed in their second sets.
Serving with a 3-2 lead in his second set, Styler jumped out to a 40-0 lead. But dropping the ensuing four points allowed Ohio State’s No. 1 singles Cannon Kingsley to beat him and tie their set at three games apiece. Three games later, Styler lost the deciding point on an ace from Kingsley to fall behind, 5-4, and dropped the next game to lose the set.
Maloney couldn’t find any success either, sustaining a three game deficit before earning a deuce point to trail, 4-2. His next game involved another all-important deuce point, but Vocel held serve, 5-2 and a dropped second set pushed their match to three sets, just as Styler’s did.
With Beaty winning his first set, Michigan’s road to victory remained open. But Beaty was unable to spark Michigan’s road to victory, losing his second set, 6-4, to Ohio State’s No. 6 singles James Trotter.
While the Wolverines and Bickersteth played extended matches of three sets, Michigan’s No. 2 singles Fenty and sophomore Gavin Young, at No. 4 singles, lost in two sets and couldn’t help right the ship.
“Gavin has obviously never really experienced playing away in a tough atmosphere,” Becker said. “This was a great experience for him … I know next time he’ll be able to handle it way differently.”
Bickersteth delayed Michigan’s loss, but Styler faltered again and Michigan’s 13-match winning streak finally came to an end.
“We hung on in a really tough atmosphere, where we were fighting against everyone,” Becker said. “That should give our guys confidence, because, from now on, we will be playing at a lot of neutral sites.”
With this loss, Michigan will be unable to retain a share of the Big Ten regular season title. But any wins from now on will be part of a new streak.