The Michigan men’s tennis team has seen its share of success in Durham, N.C. In January, the Wolverines split a pair of matches against Virginia Tech and Duke. Michigan returned a month later to upset then-No. 6 Duke.
This time, the Wolverines’ trip to Durham was with their season on the line. In order to see Duke for the third time this season, Michigan needed to beat No. 44 Maryland first on Friday. And Michigan couldn’t overcome a strong effort from Maryland, falling 4-2 in the NCAA first round.
The Wolverines din’t get the start they wanted — dropping the doubles point once again.
The No. 2 duo of sophomores Evan King and Chris Cha started the day with a victory. But the No. 3 team of freshman Barrett Franks and senior Chris Madden fell, leaving the doubles point in the hands of senior Jason Jung and freshman Shaun Bernstein.
Despite falling behind early, Jung and Bernstein clawed back to 6-5 in the pro-set before falling 8-6. Had Jung won the doubles match, he would have inched one win closer to the 90-win plateau for first all-time in Michigan history. Instead, Jung’s win total stalled at 88.
The loss at No. 1 doubles gave the edge to the Terrapins, who clinched the doubles point at the early 1-0 dual-match lead.
“Maryland played well and it’s in some way a little replica or microcosm of our season,” Michigan coach Bruce Berque said. “We lost doubles, and that’s been fairly difficult in most of the matches we played, and it catches up to you when you lose doubles over and over again. They were just better in doubles, and doubles is only one point, but that one point can be pretty pivotal.”
As singles got underway, the Wolverines started just as they had all season.
“We bounced back in singles and we had been in that position before and we fought to the end,” King said.
At No. 1, King jumped out to an early first-set lead, cruising to a quick two-set win to knot the dual at 1-1. King’s victory gave him win No. 28 in his sophomore year.
On the heels of King’s finish, freshman Justin Rossi was able to take control of the second set, sending his match to a third set at No. 6. But Cha was unable to do the same, as he fell in straight sets at No. 5 singles, surrendering a lead to Maryland in the dual.
But the Terrapins wouldn’t have the lead for long. Bernstein tied the dual at two by finishing his strong straight-set match at No. 3 singles.
“It was 2-2 for a while, and then hard fought on from there,” King said. “Everyone was doing what they possibly could to win and it was just a battle overall.”
Ahead 5-4 in the final set, Jung appeared to have a stranglehold on the match. But John Collins fought off Jung to tie the second set at 5 games. Collins went on to win the next game, shifting the pressure back to Jung, and one game away from sending the match to a third set.
While Jung was fighting to clinch his match, Rossi dropped his third set in decisive fashion, sending Maryland on top again. This time, the Terrapins were only one match away from advancing.
“For a little bit, it looked like we were in pretty good position, but there were a couple unlucky shots here and there,” King said.
For Michigan to advance to the second round, Jung and Franks had to win their singles matches. But winning both matches seemed a daunting task for the Wolverines, as Franks was trailing in his third set by a break and Jung lost the last two games of the second set.
Jung and Franks wouldn’t go away quietly, though. Franks stormed back to tie the set 4-4 and Jung jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the third set.
Despite winning three straight games, Franks dropped the ninth game of the set, falling 5-4. At No. 4, Sergio Wyss propelled Maryland to the next round with a three-set thriller, ending Michigan’s rollercoaster season.
“There weren’t big differences, they just won the last momentum swing,” Berque said. “There were a lot of (turning points) and I can’t really point to one moment, but we weren’t able to capitalize on opportunities. In every match there was a point here and there that could have made the difference. But we made too many mistakes when it mattered the most.”
The Terrapin victory ended not only the Wolverines’ season, but also their hopes of another rematch with Duke, and their hopes of reaching the Sweet 16, something that had been a team goal since the beginning of the season.
“We’re upset because we want our season to keep going, and we wanted another crack at Duke, and we wanted to go to Stanford as a team,” King said.
With the dual season over, Michigan will be graduating three seniors, including Jung. But even with the season finished, Jung will still have a chance to play deep into May, as he and teammate King will head to Palo Alto, Calif. for NCAA Individuals with at-large bids in singles, as well as an at-large bid for the pair as a doubles team.
“I think we can win doubles for sure,” King said. “I’m going to Stanford with the plan of winning singles, and I’m sure Jason is doing the same thing.
“We’re going to work hard the next couple weeks and get our doubles ready and both of us have been playing well in singles, so we’re definitely going over there to win it, not just to win a match or two. We’re going for the top spot and a US Open Wild Card.”
After NCAA Individuals come to a close, this young Wolverine team, which only loses two players regularly in the lineup, will have the summer and fall to prepare for next season. But next year’s Wolverine team will have big shoes to fill, as both Jung and Madden graduate.
“I’m optimistic, with the work-ethic and character we have, that we’ll have a really good chance to make a jump, but we’re going to have to work at it, for sure,” Berque said. “There’s no doubt that we’re far from satisfied with our results. We want to be competing for Big Ten championships and we want to be going deep into the NCAA Tournament and be a team that’s a legitimate contender for conference championships and NCAA championships.”