“Mind over body” took on a whole new meaning for sophomore Ryan Heller last Sunday in the Michigan men’s tennis match against No. 18 Vanderbilt. Despite the team’s 5-2 loss, Heller’s performance provided a bright spot for the Wolverines. At the No. 4 position, Heller defeated the Commodores’ Andy Mack, 7-6 (7-3), 6-4.

To top it off, Heller did it all while being sick.

“He was physically not as strong as usual, but he definitely did a good job focusing and pulling through,” Michigan coach Bruce Berque said.

Before Sunday’s match, Heller had an upper respiratory infection and a fever. After taking off practice last Thursday and with the team not practicing on Friday, Heller participated in two practices in Nashville on Saturday.

When Sunday rolled around, Heller’s team rallied behind the under-the-weather Chicago native.

“I guess it didn’t really affect me mentally, which is a big part of tennis,” Heller said. “Basically, everyone on the team was cheering me on. It was a big boost because I didn’t have too much energy to pump myself up.”

In addition to overcoming the odds on Sunday, Heller has been consistently excelling in singles play. Winning three of his last four matches, Heller has been described by his coaches as the most improved player on the team so far.

“(Heller) has become a much smarter tennis player when it comes to singles,” Berque said. “He’s just making better decisions strategically and doing a lot better of a job playing percentage tennis. He’s choosing the right time to go for the right shots. That’s helped him reduce his errors a lot.”

After losing against Western Michigan in the first dual match of the season on Jan. 15, 6-1, 6-4, Heller has had extra motivation to improve his game.

“My first match was awful — the worst match I’ve played since I’ve been here,” Heller said. “My intensity was good, but I wasn’t keeping the ball in play like I am now. My decisions in that match were not the greatest.”

Since that first match, Heller explained that he’s been working with Berque on keeping more balls in play on the baseline and his volleys.

On the doubles end, Heller has been paired with fellow sophomore Brian Hung. The duo has a record of 2-3, and despite recently struggling to execute, the tandem is confident that teamwork will help them rebound.

“Even though we lost the last couple of matches, the chemistry is still there,” Heller said of his partner. “It’s fun playing with (Hung) because he’s all over the place. He makes incredible shots, and sometimes I just sit there and watch. He makes my job a lot easier.”

Berque also mentioned that one of Heller’s most striking qualities as an athlete is his selfless attitude, which helps him to get along with his teammates and coaches.

“(Heller) is a very unselfish player,” Berque said. “Most people are used to playing tennis on an individual level. I think one of the most important parts for him is playing as part of the team and trying to help the team do well.”

After the disappointing loss to Vanderbilt, Heller is confident that his team will rebound against Alabama at 6 p.m., this Saturday at the Varsity Tennis Center.

“(The Vanderbilt match) was a learning experience because we haven’t played too many top teams,” Heller said. “This is kind of a warm-up for the Big Ten season, so we’re just using it as a building experience. We were right there with Vanderbilt. We’re confident that we can beat Alabama.”

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