Michigan’s No. 5 singles player, junior Harrison Brown, found himself down 5-2 in the third set of what had become the deciding match of the evening.
Brown immediately responded to the adversity with an ace. He added two more on his way to tying the match, 5-5.
Yet North Carolina State’s Tristan Smith ended Brown’s comeback in a crushing tie-breaker, sealing the match for the Wolfpack.
Late-game heroics were a common theme at the Varsity Tennis Center Wednesday evening, as the 17th-ranked Wolverines (0-1) fell to No. 23 North Carolina State (1-0), 4-3, in their season opener.
A combination of finesse and domination at the net allowed the Wolfpack to jump out to a lead in all three doubles matches.
The No.1 doubles tandem of sophomore Andrew Fenty and junior Mattias Siimar were able to counter their early deficit through a clinic at the net to notch a 6-4 victory.
With the doubles point hanging in the balance, the duo of senior Connor Johnston and Ondrej Styler found themselves down, 6-5.
The one-two punch of Styler’s serve and Johnston’s net play helped them climb back, taking the set, 7-6, and earning the Wolverines their first point of the match, and the season.
Styler struggled in his debut at No. 2 singles against Tadas Babelis, quickly falling behind in a 6-3 first-set defeat.
The more experienced Babelis was able to stall Styler’s second-set surge, securing a 6-4 second-set victory, winning the match for the Wolfpack.
Siimar found himself in a highly-competitive No. 3 singles match. Endless rallies became the norm as he and Yannai Barkaie traded blows.
The seasoned Siimar was able to pick and choose his moments en route to a 6-4, 6-2 victory.
Nick Beaty’s crippling groundstrokes propelled him to a 6-2 first-set victory in his No. 6 singles match against Martins Rocens.
Rocens came out firing in the second set, earning a 4-1 lead and capping off a 6-3 victory with an ace.
Beaty’s continued baseline dominance helped him prevail in a 6-3 third-set victory.
At No. 4 singles, Johnston’s ability to track down any ball was quickly put to the test against Rafa Luque’s pinpoint accuracy.
The senior rose to the occasion after dropping the first game to take 5-2 break. Luque came storming back, rattling off five straight games, handing Johston a crushing 7-5 first-set defeat.
“The thing with him is he has to serve better and he would be able to hold on to those leads a little bit easier,” Michigan coach Adam Steinberg said. “He’s a senior he’s got to control that.”
Johnston flipped the script in the second set, winning three straight games after falling behind, 4-1, albeit in a 6-4 losing effort.
“He fought back, he always will,” Steinberg said. “He’s an amazing fighter. He loves college tennis so much.”
In his debut at No. 1 singles, Fenty lost his first six points, quickly falling behind and losing the first set, 6-1.
The reigning NCAA Rookie of the Year came out rejuvenated in the second set, jumping out to a 4-1 lead in a dominant 6-1 first-set victory.
“He competed great,” Steinberg said. “In the beginning of the second set he hung in there, still wasn’t playing great, but he fought through some tough games.”
Fenty found himself down 4-3 in the third set, but quickly recaptured the momentum with an emphatic ace followed by a swinging volley that ignited an “Andrew Fenty” chant resonating throughout the Varsity Tennis Center.
Nevertheless, Alexis Galarneau kept Fenty’s hot streak at bay, taking the next break, 5-4, and winning the set, 6-4.
Brown’s valiant comeback effort was the silver lining in a heartbreaking ending for the Wolverines.
“To see that was great, almost a victory in itself for him to get all the way to being up 3-1 in the breaker,” Steinberg said. “He started to really play aggressive and really hit the ball and he’s capable of that.”
While resilience was on full display for Michigan, it didn’t show up on the scoreboard.
“Our movement and racket speed at the beginning of matches needs to be better,” Steinberg said. “I thought we needed to warm up before the match with better intensity and better fight.
“I think our guys were like, ‘Oh wow, this is college tennis again. I forgot how hard these other teams are gonna fight against us.’ I think they got a wake up call. It takes a lot to get four points against these teams.”