The No. 25 ranked Michigan women’s tennis team may need a
blow to the head. Right now, it will take anything that helps it
see double.

The Wolverines (3-2 Big Ten, 13-3 overall) had dropped
consecutive doubles matches to Iowa and Minnesota entering action
with No. 35 Indiana (4-1, 12-6) Saturday at the Varsity Tennis
Center, and hoped to gain the early point-advantage to lighten the
load for singles play. But things did not go according to plan.

The No. 1 doubles duo of junior Michelle DaCosta and freshman
Kara Delicata dropped its match to the Hoosiers’ Sarah Batty
and Linda Tran, 8-3. This was the same score that Indiana’s
Martina Grimm and Karie Schlukebir compiled in the No. 3 doubles
pairing of senior Kavitha Tipirneni and junior Leanne
Rutherford.

Senior Kim Plaushines and sophomore Debra Streifler found more
success in No. 2 doubles, as the pair trounced its opponents,
Cecile Perton and Dora Vastag, 8-2.

Michigan coach Bitsey Ritt was disappointed with the results,
saying: “We’re going to have to make changes in
doubles. Not in the pairings, just in our approach to these
matches.”

Playing in a best-of-seven format, the point at stake in the
doubles matches is crucial because it relieves the winning
team’s pressure in singles play, where six remaining points
decide the contest. A 3-3 split in singles play gives the victory
to the team that took the doubles point.

Indiana took the point-advantage by winning two out of the three
doubles matches.

“Indiana has always been strong at doubles,” DaCosta
said. “We just need to maintain confidence that we can make
up the doubles point in singles.”

The Wolverines barely missed that goal, coming up just short,
though they battled fiercely to the end. They split their six
singles matches, which gave Indiana the winning edge, as the
Hoosiers retained the decisive seventh point from the doubles
matches.

Streifler’s success continued, as she extended her winning
streak to 10 matches with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Indiana’s
Perton in No. 6 singles. But Rutherford struggled against
Indiana’s Schlukebir, losing 6-3, 7-6 in No. 5 singles.

The remaining matches were much more dramatically resolved. On
center court, DaCosta rallied from a 5-3 deficit in the first set,
employing a strong serve and solid play along the baseline to pull
out a 7-5 victory. With opponent Vastag’s confidence shaken,
DaCosta rode her momentum to take the second set and the No. 1
singles match 6-1.

Senior Chrissy Nolan got off to a strong start against
Indiana’s Laura McGaffigan in No. 4 singles, taking the first
set 6-2. But McGaffigan rallied to win the final two sets 6-3,
6-4.

The day’s best match featured Tipirneni in No. 3 singles.
She staunchly refused to allow her 10-match winning streak to come
to a halt. Battling the Hoosiers’ Batty, Tipirneni fell
behind 4-1 to start the match, and her frustration was evident as
she resorted to angry muttering. Tipirneni wrestled control of the
match, taking five straight games to win the first set 6-4.

She eventually finished off Batty 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 and pushed her
winning streak to 11 matches.

“Kavitha showed her toughness today,” Ritt said.
“Before I even turned around, she had already won the third
set.”

After Tipirneni’s win, the attention of the crowd shifted
to the decisive No. 2 singles showdown that pitted freshman phenom
Elizabeth Exon against Hoosier senior Linda Tran. With the team
match knotted at 3-3, the Wolverines looked to Exon to decide the
day’s fate. After splitting the first two sets 6-2, 2-6, Exon
seemed poised to complete a day of Wolverine comebacks..

Behind 5-3 in the final set, Exon held serve to come within one,
employing an authoritative lefty stroke to build momentum. Tran
appeared weary with a faltering backhand as Exon assaulted her with
a barrage of thundering forehands.

Exon’s comeback seemed imminent, but several unforced
errors in the final game secured Tran’s victory as she took
the set and the match 6-4. Tran’s smiling fist pump relayed a
jubilant mix of relief and satisfaction as Indiana walked away with
the 4-3 victory.

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