In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day weekend, the No. 29 Michigan men’s tennis team left their opponents a bit green.
Green with envy, that is.
To begin the weekend, Michigan slaughtered intrastate rival Michigan State in a 7-0 sweep Friday at the Varsity Tennis Center. Then the Wolverines kept the ball rolling in their contest against Harvard in Cambridge, Mass. yesterday. After jumping out to an early 3-0 lead, Michigan nearly squandered it. But in nail-biting fashion, Michigan squeaked by the Crimson, 4-3.
“Once again, we did a great job competing under pressure,” Michigan coach Bruce Berque said. “Harvard is not ranked very high, but this is still a good win. They definitely are a good and dangerous team.”
With the win against Harvard (3-6), Michigan (2-0 Big Ten, 8-6 overall) improved its record in 4-3 matches this year to a perfect 3-0. Freshman Andrew Mazlin proved once again to be the Wolverines’ hero, repeating his clutch performance from Michigan’s 4-3 victory against Western Michigan on Jan. 21. The rookie demonstrated his maturity in a tight three-set match against Harvard’s Sasha Ermakov, defeating him, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, to secure the win for Michigan.
“Once again, the match was on the line,” Berque said. “Just like in the Western Michigan match, Andrew had great composure, played smart, and played aggressively.”
Michigan jumped out to an early lead by winning the doubles point, 2-1. The No. 2 duo of Mazlin and junior Ryan Heller hardly broke a sweat in their match, crushing the Crimson’s Dan Nguyen and Brian Wan, 8-2. But after the tandem of freshman Scott Bruckmann and junior Steve Peretz fell to Harvard’s No. 3 doubles team, the double’s point rested on the shoulders of the Wolverines’ dynamic duo at the No. 1 position.
After dropping a tough contest against Michigan State in a tiebreaker on Friday, 9-8 (4), the No. 15 tandem of sophomore Matko Maravic and junior Brian Hung improved to 10-4 on the season with an 8-6 victory against Harvard’s Brandon Chiu and Ashwin Kumar.
“Even up an early break, they really had to focus,” Berque said. “Harvard did a good job at the net . so there definitely was that pressure for Matko and Brian to keep holding serve. They have just been playing smart, aggressively, and competing well.”
Up 1-0, the Wolverines got off to a quick start in the singles competition at the Nos. 1 and 2 positions. No. 37 Maravic improved his individual record to .500 with his straight-set victory against Chiu, 6-4, 6-2.
Following suit was Maravic’s doubles partner Hung, who backed up his recent Big Ten Conference Athlete of the Week Award, the veteran’s second honor of the season. The co-captain was recognized for tallying victories in three of his four matches against No. 10 Texas and Texas A&M.
Yesterday against Wan, Hung handled the No. 2 Harvard player, 6-4, 6-4.
“For a brief time, Brian was making too many errors at the net,” Berque said. “But I think overall this year versus last year, he’s better at playing through his strengths at singles, which makes it easier for him to come to the net. Last year, he was a little hesitant to do that. But now, he’s more focused within a match. He’s so much better this year that when he gets up on someone, he continues to stay focused and stick to his gameplan.”
Jumping to a 3-0 lead, Michigan’s path to victory seemed paved. But the Crimson refused to go down without a fight. Harvard won the next three singles matches to tie the score at three, leaving Mazlin to determine the Wolverines’ fate at the No. 4 position, where the newcomer marked Michigan’s last nonconference match of the season with a “W.”
This weekend’s sweep snapped Michigan’s three-game losing skid, which included tough losses to two top-10 teams, and supplied the Wolverines with a surge of momentum heading into the bulk of the Big Ten season.
“(Snapping the losing streak) is great,” Berque said. “I was really happy that even with those three losses, the team never got down. They’re smart enough to realize that we were losing to some of the best teams in the country. It almost gave them a little confidence that they weren’t that far away from (beating) those teams.”