Down 5-2 in the second set, it looked almost certain that Michigan sophomore Barrett Franks was going to need a third set to beat his opponent from LSU to help his Wolverines win the dual match.
The Michigan men’s tennis team (3-2) was beating the 32nd-ranked Tigers, (3-1), and needed only one more win to clinch at 3-2. But sophomore Shaun Bernstein was just beginning his third set after he dropped the second set to LSU’s Neal Skupski. At No. 5 singles, Franks was most likely going to follow suit.
Franks won the first set in routine fashion, 6-4, after breaking Stefan Szacinski’s serve to get a late lead before serving to win the set. In the second, Franks was broken in the second game and went down 2-0. Five games later, Franks had his back against the wall.
“To be honest, I was thinking that as long as I could get through this service game, I knew the pressure would be on him to serve it out,” Franks said.
Franks won the next game handily, and Szacinski missed several first serves in the following game, failing to close out Franks and the match to a third set. Franks had all the momentum by that point in the match.
Franks drew even at five games apiece and was looking as confident as ever, while Szacinski seemed to have lost focus and any hope of forcing the match to a third set. Up 6-5, serving for the match, it was all but over for Szacinski.
Before Franks served for his matc, and the dual-match victory, his Michigan teammates started a slow clap that echoed through the Varsity Tennis Center. During the point, Franks hit a deep approach shot that allowed him to rush the net and hit a drop-shot volley that Szacinski couldn’t reach. The Wolverine sophomore spiked his racquet in celebration, as his teammates went out on the court to congratulate him for clinching the dual.
“I felt really good out there,” Franks said. “The way the crowd pumped me up really helped me get through. It was really lonely on that side for a while after (junior Evan King) and (freshman Alex Petrone) finished, but I was able to pull it through when they came back to support me.”
Franks’ fourth singles win of the season was the difference in Michigan’s fourth dual victory this year.
The Wolverines didn’t start off well in the top-30 matchup, as they dropped the doubles point, even after the No. 1 team of King and Bernstein won its eight-game pro-set.
The No. 2 doubles team of Franks and sophomore Alex Buzzi were broken at four-all, and were never able to break back. At No. 3, freshmen Alex Petrone and Michael Zhu were overmatched and overpowered.
“I thought LSU had really strong No. 2 and No. 3 teams, especially their No. 3 team,” said Michigan coach Bruce Berque. “If we played really well, we would’ve had a shot, but you could really see the difference between men and freshmen at No. 3.”
Despite losing the doubles point for the first time this season, the Wolverines responded by winning five of six first sets in singles play.
“After losing the doubles point, it’s easy to be kind of wandering and be a little bit shaken, but I think our guys really went after it and our execution was just better,” Berque said.
At No. 3 and No. 4 singles, Petrone and Zhu finished off their opponents in quick straight-set victories, putting Michigan in front, 2-1. King was the next Wolverine to finish beating Olivier Borsos at No. 1 singles.
The Wolverines’ top player orchestrated a perfect first set, ending most points with a winner. Borsos even paid his complements to King when he yelled “unbelievable,” after one of King’s many fantastic shots.
After storming through the first set, King motioned to the crowd to get loud, and they responded with no trouble. But King’s animated opponent wasn’t having any of it, and he jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second set.
“I completely lost focus,” King said. “I had a lot of fun out there, which is a great thing, but can also be kind of dangerous. Whether or not you’re playing No. 1 or No. 6, if you lose your focus for a while, you’re going to get down.”
But at 3-4, King broke the Tiger’s serve to knot the set at four games. King served up a fast game, cruising to a 5-4 lead and then looking to the crowd again for noise.
Borsos was simply out of gas by that point. He had given the No. 6 player in the country everything he had, including loud grunts after every stroke, but it wasn’t enough. He dropped his next service game to give King the game, set and match.
“I found it funny (how animated he was),” King said. “That’s college tennis, and that’s what it should be. I knew that if I got focused, I would be fine and play my game.”
After the conclusion of King’s match, Franks finished off Szacinski for the dual win, but Bernstein wasn’t finished at No. 2 singles. In the third set, Bernstein came from behind and sent the set to a tiebreaker. After squandering four match points, Bernstein finally closed it out against Skupski for his third win of the season.
“It’s great for my confidence,” Bernstein said. “Getting wins is always great, but it’s just about improvement, and I do think I showed some definite improvement in some areas that I’ve been working on, so that’s always a huge positive.”
Bernstein’s win made the Wolverines’ dual victory look sweeter, as they avenged last season’s loss to LSU by the same score, 5-2. Michigan enjoyed its third victory at home this season, but the team will only play one match in Ann Arbor in the next five weeks.
“It feels great (to get this win), because we have such a young team,” King said. “It’s huge to get quality wins early in the season when you know that all we are going to do is get better as the year goes on.”