Traveling to Norman, Okla. for the ITA Kick-Off, the No. 19 Michigan men’s tennis team split its weekend series, losing 4-1 to No. 16 Oklahoma on Saturday, but defeating No. 25 Arkansas on Sunday, 4-0.
Saturday’s match was marked with a flurry of Oklahoma victories, as the Sooners opened up a decisive 3-0 lead, with wins in No. 1 singles, No. 3 singles, No. 1 doubles and No. 3 doubles.
Sophomore Myles Schalet closed the gap to 3-1 after a win in the No. 5 singles match, before the Wolverines began to mount a comeback with senior Jathan Malik and juniors Runhao Hua and Davis Crocker. Each forced a third set with second-set tiebreakers in the No. 2, 4 and 6 singles matches. Malik forced a tiebreaker once again in the third set, but lost 7-6, giving Oklahoma the game-clinching fourth tally.
“We just need to play as a team from the beginning all the way through the match. We didn’t do that,” said Michigan coach Adam Steinberg. “We really came together a little bit too late. We needed to establish that energy and enthusiasm and our fight as a team way earlier, and it caught up to us.”
Sunday proved to be a much different story. The Wolverines got off to quick start and rode their momentum to a decisive 4-0 shutout victory over the Razorbacks. Leading the way was freshman Connor Johnston, who was inserted in the No. 1 doubles lineup along with Malik in his very first collegiate match. The duo won their match to the tune of a 6-1 score, and Johnston gave Michigan its fourth and final point with a win in the No. 6 singles match.
“He was a spark plug for us,” Steinberg said. “He came in and he was a big lift in doubles. To throw him in at No. 1 doubles, where he hasn’t ever played college tennis before and to win 6-1 — him and Jathan — was incredible. I can’t say enough about his performance (Sunday) and what he brought to our team and we need that.”
Adding to the Wolverines’ score were Crocker and junior Alex Knight, who won the No. 5 and No. 4 singles matches, respectively. Knight and Hua were also able to come away with a victory in the No. 2 doubles matchup.
With a match against Princeton on Thursday, the team will look to carry on the same energy and enthusiasm that they captured against Arkansas on Sunday, but had lacked the day before.
“We did a great job fighting back against Oklahoma. I thought the guys really competed hard, but they need to compete for each other for longer stretches of time,” Steinberg said. “If we do that like we did today (against Arkansas), we’re pretty tough to beat.”