Spring break was certainly no day at the beach for the Michigan men’s tennis team.
After an impressive nonconference start, the Wolverines dropped their first two Big Ten matches at home against No. 5 Illinois and Northwestern. Now, sitting at the bottom of the conference, Michigan (0-2 Big Ten, 6-3 overall) will hit the road this weekend to face Minnesota (0-1, 4-3) and Wisconsin (1-1, 6-3).
A frustrating theme percolated throughout the Wolverines’ past two losses.
“We had some opportunities, and for whatever reason, we got a little nervous and had some lapses,” coach Mark Mees said. “Against good teams, you just can’t do that.”
Great tennis players distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack by their ability to excel when it matters most. Mees knows such a knack is not his team’s forte.
“We got to get better,” he said. “Regardless of the sport you are playing or the level, what you have to do is be able to perform in a pressure situation. You’ve got to be able to step to the plate and play those big points. Against good teams, you’re not going to back into it. You have to go win it because they’re not going to lose it.”
Adding to Michigan’s woes is the news that senior Ben Cox, the team’s No. 2 singles player, will most likely miss this weekend’s road trip. Cox was sidelined for the Northwestern match due to a viral infection, and he has not picked up a racquet in two weeks.
That means Mees will have to tinker with the singles lineup and bring in some new players at the bottom, a place where the Wolverines have not been very effective this season.
“We have to play a little better down at the bottom of our lineup,” Mees said. “We’ve got some guys that are capable of doing that, but they need to start executing in matches, not just in practice. We’ve been playing a lot of matches this week so we’ll see who comes through.”
One player who does not need to worry about maintaining his spot on the team is Henry Beam, Michigan’s No. 1 singles player. With a dual match record of 7-2, Beam is currently ranked No. 57 in the nation. But this weekend he will be facing his most formidable challenge of the season in Minnesota’s Harsh Mankind, who is ranked No. 1.
“He’s pretty good; he played on the Indian Davis Cup team,” Beam said with a smile. “The last time I lost to him, but the time before that I won. So I feel pretty good going against him.”