Oftentimes in a tennis match, the winner is decided by much more than skill. At the highest level, a player’s poise, desire to win and mental toughness come through in the key moments. Michigan men’s tennis junior Jacob Bickerseth and women’s tennis sophomore Julia Fliegner put all those qualities on display, winning their semifinal and final matches in grueling three-set tiebreaks at the ITA summer championships. The finals were played in the tournament’s hottest and most unbearable conditions.
“We were both struggling and I think my opponent was cramping in the breaker and I almost threw up,” Fliegner said. “… I just told myself that I was fine and that I wasn’t hurting and it went away. I kind of just buckled down and got through that breaker and played some solid tennis, but it was definitely just whoever was willing to suffer through those last 20 minutes.”
Bickerseth and Fliegner became just the second duo to win the men’s and women’s singles brackets from the same college in ITA summer championships history. Both had similar paths to their trophies, not dropping a set until the semifinals.
They each narrowly won their semifinal matches in the third set tiebreaks after dropping the second set and were scheduled to play the finals on adjacent courts. Both had slow starts as Bickerseth dropped the first set, 6-4, and Fliegner lost, 6-3. But the respective Wolverines stormed back in the second set with Bickerseth winning, 6-3, and Fliegner winning, 7-5.
As they both fought for the comeback wins, the Michigan players had a key advantage over their opponents: each other’s support.
“(At the end of the second set) Bick was like, ‘It’s okay, you’re fine just keep grinding,’” Fliegner said. “And then in the breaker, he looked over and was like, ‘Let’s go Jules,’ and I was like, ‘Let’s go blue,’ and it really helped me.”
They each completed their comebacks. Bickerseth made quick work of the third set and won, 10-2, to capture the men’s title, while Fliegner dueled to a 10-6 win for the women’s title.
Prior to Bickerseth and Fliegner, the only other year that a duo from the same school captured the men’s and women’s championships was in 2003 with Chris Martin and Jennifer McGaffigan of Illinois accomplishing the feat. The fighting Illini tennis teams would go on to have great seasons: The men went 32-2 and won the Big Ten championship while the women went 17-6.
With both Wolverine teams coming off Big Ten championships of their own in 2022, expectations are high for the upcoming seasons. The men and women have their eyes on the same goal: a national championship.
“We have a pretty good chance to win I would say,” Bickerseth said. “We have a pretty much the same team coming back in … I think that we lost just because that was new for us. Some guys weren’t used to it like that sort of pressure because it was new grounds. But I think this year we’re going to be even better”
And the respective performances of Bickerseth and Fliegner at the ITA summer championships certainly bode well for those aspirations.