The doubles point proved to be the make-or-break factor for the No. 20 Michigan men’s tennis team in its weekend split.
On Friday, winning the doubles point set the tone early for a 5-2 win over Northwestern.
But on Saturday, a doubles loss foreshadowed a 4-2 defeat to No. 15 Illinois.
“The doubles point is so big and we need to play better,” said Michigan coach Adam Steinberg. “For us, we should take much more pride in our doubles. Our record in doubles should be better than it is.”
On Friday, the team clinched two out of the three doubles matches after impressive performances from the duos of freshman Andrew Fenty and senior Myles Schalet, and junior Connor Johnston and freshman Patrick Maloney.
With the crucial doubles point under its belt, Michigan proceeded to win four of six matches in the singles round. Sophomore Mattias Siimar impressed with a 6-2, 6-3 straight-set outing over Northwestern’s Antonioni Fasano to propel the Wolverines to a win on Friday.
The second half of the home series against Illinois on Sunday was a different story.
The team of Fenty and Schalet, along with the team of sophomore Harrison Brown and Siimar dropped the first two matches, leaving the third unfinished and handing Illinois the doubles victory.
Steinberg felt that his squad did not execute well on first serve, an important aspect of doubles because it enables a team to hold serve most of the time during a match.
Though the team trailed from the start, the competition was still close late. Michigan trailed by one point with a chance to tie and potentially win with Fenty and Johnston left to play.
Johnston would ultimately fall to Illinois’ Keenan Mayo in a close third set, clinching a 4-2 victory for the Illini. Illinois players stormed the court in joy, while the Wolverines looked on with noticeable disappointment.
“We just had leads everywhere. We threw them away up a set and a break at six, up a set and break at two,” Steinberg said. “We have to finish those.”
Siimar, Johnston and senior Gabe Tishman all held leads during their matches, but all eventually lost in three sets. It was a pattern that Steinberg felt derived from a mid-match mentality — a misguided one.
“I think they think about winning and that they don’t focus on the plan ahead, the task,” Steinberg said. “They get so results-oriented when they’re ahead. It’s just the wrong thinking.”
Despite a disappointing afternoon, Michigan had strong showings from Schalet and Maloney, the team’s only two players to win in the singles round. Schalet’s day was particularly impressive, as he led a valiant comeback from down three games to win the first set and eventually the match in straight sets 7-5, 7-6 (5). Steinberg said that he believed it was one of his better wins of the season, considering the deficit Schalet overcame.
Maloney also had a short, yet impressive, outing, beating his opponent 6-3, 6-2.
“He’s doing unbelievable,” Steinberg said. “You know, when you lose a doubles point you don’t want to go down 2-0, you want to get it one all, and he got us on the board so that was great for him.”
Still, Steinberg demonstrated some frustration with how his team started and finished the match.
“We do a great job when we’re down, but we don’t do a great job when we’re up,” Steinberg said. “It’s just glaring, it happens a lot to us. So we need to find a way to finish more.”
Schalet agreed with his coach and mentioned that changing the trajectory of their season starts with how the Wolverines train.
“When we play sets in practice and really make it like a match, not just going through the motions, it takes a lot of focus,” Schalet said. “When you are playing a good team like Illinois, they’re going to really fight when they’re down.”