Missed serves, double faulting and deflated mentalities ended the Michigan men’s tennis team’s win streak against Notre Dame on Saturday. Entering the match on an uninterrupted five-game run, the Wolverines took a big hit, 6-1, effectively pulling them back into reality.
The match started with Michigan losing the doubles point, lowering its confidence throughout the rest of the match. Two of the Fighting Irish doubles teams dominated their Wolverine counterparts — juniors Jathan Malik and Tyler Gardiner, and freshman Gabe Tishman and junior Kevin Wong — both 6-3. The third doubles team, consisting of redshirt sophomore Alex Knight and sophomore Runhao Hua, led 5-2 before the doubles point was decided by the other two matches. The Wolverines, who are 0-2 when losing the doubles point, are showing a pattern for weakness — when they lose the doubles point, they lose the whole match.
“It’s only one point, but it feels like a lot more, and I think the guys put too much weight on it,” said Michigan coach Adam Steinberg. “For us to be a great team, we’re going to have to win matches after losing the doubles. We’re not going to win the doubles every time. I felt like we were a little bit deflated going into singles, and I was disappointed in that, because it’s a long way to go still. We still have a lot to play for.”
The deflated mentality proved especially fatal for several Wolverines who lost in straight sets. Redshirt sophomore Davis Crocker fell, 0-6, 1-6. Meanwhile, Malik, who is ranked 73rd in singles, lost, 2-6, 3-6, to Notre Dame’s Quentin Monaghan — the No. 51 player in the country.
The one highlight of the match seemed to be Knight, who scored Michigan’s lone team point. After initially splitting the first two sets against Alex Lawson, 6-2 and 4-6, Knight retaliated in the third set. The frame was evenly split between the two, with ties at 3-3 and 6-6, but Knight secured the final point to win the match, 7-6.
“Alex is just a great competitor. He fights as hard or harder than anybody I’ve ever coached,” Steinberg said. “He’ll always be in the match because he competes so well. He’s playing with a lot of confidence, he’s winning and he’s doing great in singles and doubles.”
Of the six singles matches, four went into third sets. Hua was the closest to another team point, losing in the first-set tiebreaker, 6-7. He coasted through the second set 6-2, and was tied up in the third set. But he couldn’t secure the win, losing 7-10.
Despite losing the doubles point and the first two singles matches in straight sets, the Wolverines almost seemed as if they could pull through with wins in singles, with three of the remaining four players dominating in the second set. But Michigan couldn’t close out its matches and stay on the offensive to secure the win.
“College tennis is strange, because you can be down 3-0 but you could be winning on the other four courts,” Steinberg said. “You’re still down 3-0, but you’re basically winning the match. It’s unique in that respect. Even though we were down 3-0, I felt really good about things for a while there, because we were going into the third set on four courts, and we had won second sets on three of them. We had a lot of momentum going forward so we still had a chance.
“I’m sure they feel the pressure, but that’s the fun part of playing college tennis and collegiate sports. When it’s on the line and you have to come through, that’s what it’s all about. The good ones will thrive in those situations, and other athletes don’t.”
Without securing the doubles point, the team lacks the ability to handle pressure going into singles. With Michigan’s in-state rival next on the horizon Friday, it’ll need to quickly figure out how to reverse this trend for any chance at success.