A season ago, the Michigan men’s tennis team dropped a tough decision in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Maryland. But 2012 brought different first-round fortunes for the Wolverines, who swept Middle Tennessee State, 4-0, to earn a date with regional host Ole Miss on Sunday.
Michigan got off to the start they wanted by winning the doubles point, which has been a catalyst of dual-match success for the Wolverines. Michigan hadn’t lost a match after winning the doubles point since it lost to Notre Dame on Feb. 18.
At No. 1 and No. 3 doubles, the Wolverines pairs got early breaks, before breaking the serve to extend their leads later in the set. Junior Evan King and sophomore Shaun Bernstein eventually won, 8-2, at No. 1 doubles just before freshmen Alex Petrone and Michael Zhu won, 8-4, at No. 3 doubles to clinch the point.
“We played well and we got off to really good starts at No. 1 and No. 3 doubles and jumped on them and were able to stay on top of them,” said Michigan coach Bruce Berque.
The two doubles wins came before Middle Tennessee State had a chance to upset Michigan at No. 2 doubles – a match which was abandoned after the doubles point had already been settled.
Like they have all season long, the Wolverines turned the doubles success into singles success. At the bottom and the top of the lineup, Michigan stormed out to first-set victories. Only Bernstein and Zhu at No. 3 and No. 4 singles, respectively, dropped first sets.
Sophomore Barrett Franks was the first Wolverine to nab a second set at No. 5 singles, as he defeated Dmitiri Pippos, 6-1, 6-1, to give Michigan a 2-0 advantage.
“That was very good to see that first point up on the board,” Berque said. “(Franks) got off the court quickly, and we were struggling in some other places. It kind of felt like a good struggle in the dual with some tight matches, but in the end we were able to roll pretty well.”
At No. 2 singles, Petrone pushed the Wolverine lead to three when he defeated his opponent in straight sets in his NCAA Tournament debut. The win put Petrone into the eighth spot all-time in Michigan history for singles wins as a freshman.
Given Petrone’s win, Michigan only needed to win one of the remaining four singles matches to advance to the NCAA Tournament’s second round.
King delivered on that victory when he beat Ben Davis, 6-2, 6-3, to send Michigan to the second round.
King’s win marked his 16th-straight match victory – a career-long win streak that he will look to extend further on Sunday.
The remaining singles matches, which were all in third sets, were abandoned, as Michigan won 4-0 to advance the second round.
“It was a new experience for half our team,” Berque said. “A lot of the guys were doing this for the first time, while a couple others were doing it for just the second time. It was definitely good to get through that first one, and hopefully they’ll feel more relaxed and better tomorrow.”
The Wolverines had a chance to accomplish something that had been their goal since the beginning of the season and something Berque has noted as a mark of an elite team – a berth to the Sweet 16.
“They deserve to feel really good about their season, and I know they want to finish on a high note,” Berque said. “Any match we play could be the last one, and they need to play like that – go after it and leave nothing out there.”