“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Those six words from Western Michigan’s No. 2 singles player Pablo Olivarez said it all. Wolverine sophomore Shaun Bernstein had just rallied from down love-40 to build a first-set lead, 5-0. Bernstein was that good all day.
In the second set, Olivarez muttered those words again. This time they were to the line judge, who overruled Olivarez on a Bernstein serve that Olivarez called out. The point gave Bernstein the advantage, and eventually the game, en route to a routine 6-2 second-set victory.
Bernstein’s stellar play for the Michigan men’s tennis team was matched by his teammates, who swept Western Michigan, 7-0, on Saturday.
Every Wolverine got off to a fast start against his Bronco opponent, each player winning the first set. Freshmen Eli Brown and Alex Petrone were impressive, winning their first sets by scores of 6-0 and 6-1, respectively.
“(The freshmen) all did a really good job,” said Michigan coach Bruce Berque. “They’re young, but they’re mature. I love their fight. All three have great passion for tennis, so that makes it really fun for us. (Petrone) and (freshman Michael Zhu) are playing No. 3 and No. 4, and that’s not easy for freshmen, but they really stepped in and did a good job.”
Brown wasn’t originally in the lineup, but after the doubles round, sophomore Alex Buzzi felt that he couldn’t play through his shoulder pain. Brown was given the call to step in at No. 6 singles for his first career singles match.
“I wasn’t initially planning on playing, but I got the call last second, and got out there and did what I had to do,” Brown said.
Brown showed no sign of nerves, as he jumped out to a two-break 3-0 lead over the Western Michigan junior Aaron Wong. His success continued, to the disbelief of Wong, who screamed and threw his towel at the end of the first set.
“It was very exciting,” Brown said. “I was a little nervous going out there, but I really felt great once I got going. Shaun Bernstein was really helping me with (controlling my nerves) by talking to me during my match.”
In the second set, Brown continued to control his opponent. As he was serving for a 5-3 lead, Wong screamed “give me a break.” He never got one. Brown quickly held serve, and then broke Wong in the final game of the match to win his first career dual match, and inch the Wolverines one win closer to a victory.
Though Petrone won the first set handily, he dropped the second, 3-6. He ended up winning the match in the third set.
Sophomore Barrett Franks opened singles well for the Wolverines, punctuating his second set with an overhead slam to give Michigan a 2-0 lead in the dual.
The No. 6 player in the country, Michigan junior Evan King, clinched the match for his team after winning a hard-fought match characterized by long rallies, hard serves, and few errors. King jumped out to a 4-1 first-set lead after breaking Nadin Indre’s serve. The Wolverine junior capped off the first set with a hard first serve, which Indre couldn’t get back over the net.
In the second set, Indre hit another shot into the net after a long rally, which sent King up 5-4, giving him the opportunity to serve for his match and for the dual match. Meanwhile, Bernstein was also serving for both his match and the dual match. But King beat Bernstein to the punch, as he quickly finished Indre while Bernstein took a minute longer to win his match.
Zhu was also able to win for Michigan, 7-6, 6-1, to secure the sweep for the Wolverines.
“It can’t hurt to win 7-0 against a good team that we respect,” Berque said. “We’ll have to play our very best next weekend (against No. 10 Duke) and hope our guys can do it and hope we’re playing in front of a pretty big crowd.”
It was Michigan’s ninth-straight opening-match victory, and fourth straight over Western Michigan, who Michigan also swept to start the season last year.
The Wolverines were also able to win two of three doubles matches. Last season, Michigan struggled to win doubles points. This year, the team is counting on the No. 1 pair of Bernstein and King to lead the group to more doubles victories.
“We had a really good fall together and beat a lot of really good teams,” King said. “Hopefully we can take the momentum from this match, and take a (win) against Duke and just go from there.”
Though the No. 2 pair of Franks and Buzzi could never get momentum, the freshman pair of Petrone and Zhu came together halfway through the eight-game pro-set to build a lead and win their first match as a pair in the dual season.
“It’s a decent starting point and I was happy with our freshmen, they did a really good job,” Berque said. “They showed a lot of improvement in doubles, which is a big positive. Also, (King) and (Bernstein) picked up where they left off in the fall.”
Michigan faces off against the Blue Devils next weekend. The squads are familiar with each other, as they split a pair of dual matches last season.
All eyes will be on the matchup at No. 1 singles between King and Henrique Cuhna, who is ranked No. 7 nationally. Cuhna has taken the last two matches against King, but the Michigan junior looks to reverse the trend and help the Wolverines upset the Blue Devils.
“I am very much looking forward to that rematch (with Cuhna),” King said. “That’s what I’ve got circled on my calendar, that’s the one I want, that’s the most pumped up I am for this whole season. I need a little revenge, so we will battle it out, lefty versus lefty.”