Few times in his illustrious tennis career has senior Matko Maravic felt as overwhelmed as he did Saturday.
Before the No. 15 Michigan men’s tennis team’s 6-1 win over No. 33 Notre Dame on Senior Day, the native of Zagreb, Croatia received a pleasant surprise when he entered the locker room.
He found his teammates wearing white shirts with his homeland’s flag on the front and “Maravic” on the back. The Wolverines (17-3) then honored their lone senior by playing Croatia’s national anthem before the match.
Playing in a home dual meet for the final time, Maravic listened as the announcer rattled off his lengthy list of career achievements.
As in every match, Maravic didn’t hide his emotions.
“When they announced everything I did, I kind of started crying,” Maravic said. “I kind of reflected back on how many matches I’ve played here and what I’ve done. It was sad to leave.”
But after warm-ups ended, Maravic removed his honorary white shirt and left it, along with the nostalgia, on the bench.
Maravic teamed up with junior Andrew Mazlin for the first time all season at No. 1 doubles and notched an 8-5 victory, earning Michigan’s first doubles point in three dual meets.
The early 1-0 advantage helped the Wolverines to their first victory over the Fighting Irish (11-10) in six years.
After a subpar doubles performance last weekend, Michigan coach Bruce Berque shuffled his lineup, pairing freshman Chris Madden and sophomore George Navas for the first time this season. Berque cited the Wolverines’ recent complacency as reason for the re-tooled lineup.
“It was getting stale,” Berque said. “Whether it was caused by the lineup change or wanting to do well for Matko’s last match, we got back to . playing with a lot of energy, a lot of fight and a lot of discipline.”
Discipline was in short supply for Maravic’s singles opponent, Notre Dame junior Brett Helgeson. Maravic forced Helgeson into several errors in a 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 victory. And as Maravic celebrated his points with howls and fist pumps, Helgeson muttered expletives and showed his frustration.
For Maravic, that flamboyance doubled as gamesmanship.
“That’s how I’m used to playing,” Maravic said. “(When I don’t do it), I don’t move as well, I get negative, and I don’t get comfortable with that. I just try to do it one way every single time.”
Helgeson’s frustration proved contagious, spilling over onto the No. 3 singles court during Mazlin’s match with Notre Dame freshman Steven Havens. Mazlin had never won a singles match against the Irish, losing both times to Helgeson. And his new opponent wasn’t making things easier.
Despite the straight set victory, Mazlin grew frustrated with himself as the match progressed. After hitting shots out of bounds and into the net, he often threw his arms up in the air and screamed at himself. Assistant coach Sean Maymi had to sit down with Mazlin during breaks to settle the Wolverines’ star.
“Andrew’s quietly very, very competitive,” Berque said. “And he’s very tough on himself.”
Mazlin said his frustration stemmed from several poor returns on Haven’s serves, but he channeled his anger to grind out his team-best 12th consecutive win and had enough time to watch the end of what he called an “amazing” match by Maravic.
As evidenced by the pregame pageantry, Michigan’s 11th win in 12 duals was dedicated to its outgoing captain. And Maravic had one more surprise in store for him.
His father, Thomas, made an unexpected visit to Ann Arbor a few days before to watch his son compete for just the fourth time in Maravic’s collegiate career. But even with the surprise guest in attendance, Maravic refused to stay stuck in the moment once play began.
“I think I would’ve played exactly the same whether he was here or not,” Maravic said. “Everything was under my control.”