With the fall preseason concluding, freshmen Mert Oral and Bjorn Swenson along with sophomores Will Cooksey and Patorn Hanchaikul were entered into both the singles and doubles draws of the Big Ten Singles and Doubles Championships. Alongside the four Wolverines, the tournament featured 46 players exclusively from Big Ten schools.
With a majority of the upperclassmen away at various tournaments, Michigan relied on four out of five of its underclassmen to compete among the rest of the Big Ten.
In singles, Swenson and Hanchaikul found success, advancing to the quarterfinals and semifinals respectively, while Oral and Cooksey fell early into the consolation draws. The new duo of Swenson and Cooksey also proceeded to the semifinals, while Hanchaikul and Oral lost in their first doubles match. Michigan coach Adam Steinberg’s takeaway, though, was more than just the match scores.
“I love our young guys. I love their enthusiasm, I love their energy. They’ve been great,” Steinberg said. “I really enjoy what they bring on a daily basis, and I think everyone on the team really does (as well).”
Energy and enthusiasm were paramount in the singles quarterfinals for both Swenson and Hanchaikul. Hanchaikul faced Wisconsin’s Mihailo Popovic, with a tight first set eventually won off of a serve and volley winner, 6-4. As Hanchaikul’s second set began, Swenson started his first set against Indiana’s Patrick Fletchall. As Swenson sailed to 4-1 in the first set, and Hanchaikul began to capitalize on Popovic’s visible lack of gusto, the two would often motivate each other with shouts of encouragement, from their adjacent courts.
While Hanchaikul served out the match, winning 6-4, 6-4, Swenson’s opponent dug in, claiming the second set 1-6 and bringing the match to a third and final set. The final set was brought to a tiebreaker and — tied 6-6 at the second changeover — Swenson won the next two points to defeat Fletchall, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6(6).
With both having advanced to the quarterfinals, Hanchaikul was set to face Northwestern’s Presley Thieneman, and Swenson to face the Wildcat’s Ivan Yatsuk. Both began by losing the first set, 5-7 and 4-6, respectively, but the two matches couldn’t have ended in a more contrasting fashion. For Swenson, the second and final set served as a lesson, and although fending off five match points, he lost 4-6, 5-7.
“(Bjorn’s) a great competitor, he’s got great energy,” Steinberg said. “He just has to work on really being a true tennis player instead of just a hitter … this tournament taught him a lot about that.”
Although Swenson’s strong serve plus one strategy resulted in relative success, his downfall was a combination of unforced errors and overly aggressive shots. Yatsuk moved him around the court and to the net with various ease, often winning points by forcing Swenson into uncomfortable shots and positions.
After Hanchaikul dropped the first set to Thieneman due to a series of broken service games, he battled in the second set to bring it to a tiebreaker, in which he dominated. Winning six points in a row off consistent forehands, volley winners and overall very steady play, he ultimately served it out 7-1.
Again, the second set concluded in a tiebreaker. Banking on the success of his prior tiebreaker, Hanchaikul rushed in with a volley and slammed an overhead to win the match, 5-7, 7-6(1), 7-6(4).
In the semifinals Hanchaikul was set to play against Yatsuk, who had handed Swenson his sole loss of the fall season the day prior. Hanchaikul failed to find a rhythm, and struggled against Yatsuk’s serve, paired with his overwhelming consistency from the baseline. Dropping multiple service games, combined with multiple aces from Yatsuk, Hanchaikul lost the first set 1-6. Despite a surge down 0-5 to win the next two games, Hanchaikul lost in the following game, 1-6, 2-6.
“(Patorn’s) been practicing really well, we’ve seen a really high level of tennis (from) him,” Steinberg said. “(The match against Yatsuk) was a big jump for him.”
For the next ten weeks before the regular season begins, Hanchaikul will be faced with an even larger jump — one into the top six. College tennis is in a format focused on primarily six players, who team up for three doubles matches, and compete alone for six singles matches. Players out of the top six often play substantially less, and Hanchaikul was in that position last year. This competition for a spot in the lineup is a product of the incredible depth of this year’s team.
“They’re all fighting for spots,” Steinberg said. “Obviously, nothing’s even close to being decided on that front, and they have a few more months to improve.”
Although the Wolverines’ tournament results don’t represent the team in its entirety due to absences from multiple key players, these next 10 weeks will be the most competitive yet, and ultimately decide the future of the season.