EVANSTON – In his final trip to Northwestern, everything was aligned for Michigan men’s tennis captain Ryan Heller.
Friends and family made up half the crowd, he had an impressive doubles match victory with sophomore Andrew Mazlin and a singles match against long-time friend, Wildcat senior Matt Christian.
So it was only fitting that Heller clinched the dual-match, propelling the 22nd-ranked Wolverines to a 5-2 win over Northwestern.
Up 5-1 in the third set, Heller seemed to have his match won. But after freshman George Navas dropped a grueling straight-set match, Heller felt the pressure. He committed three unforced errors, allowing Christian back into the match, 5-4.
With Christian serving, an unforced error gave Heller match point. Following a decent return, Heller followed with three cross-court forehands. Finally, he dealt the final blow with a winner down the line for the victory (6-1, 3-6, 6-4).
The final point was a time for his father, Jay Heller, to reflect on his son’s career.
“It’s a sad thing that it’s winding down, but it’s a good thing, too,” Heller said. “Tennis has been a big part of the family life. But (moving past tennis) is another step. Just like going into high school or going to Michigan. He’s got an interview tomorrow (for banking). This is the next step. He’s growing up.”
Freshman Mike Sroczynski also did some growing up against the Wildcats. Unable to get anything going during his doubles match, Sroczynski received a little motivation from Michigan coach Bruce Berque.
“Before he went on the court (to play singles) I told (Sroczynski), ‘Look, if you’re going to go out there today, you better make damn sure you’re going to compete a whole let better and have more intensity than you did in doubles,’ ” Berque said.
Sroczynski put those words to action after losing the first game of his singles match.
Soon enough, he found his rhythm and overpowered Wildcat Alex Samborn, 6-3, 6-1.
But not all of the Wolverines (1-0 Big Ten, 7-1 overall) jumped on Northwestern.
Following a strong showing in doubles with junior captain Matko Maravic, senior captain Brian Hung never had his game together in singles.
While battling from behind, Hung lost most of his momentum with a controversial call in the first set.
As Wildcat Christian Tempe hit a ball near the sideline, Hung called the ball out only to be overruled by the judge.
Upset with the call, Hung would go on to lose his second singles match in a row (6-3, 6-1), and gave Northwestern (0-2, 5-6) one of its few team points of the contest.
Michigan can’t afford any subpar performances next week when it faces No. 9 Notre Dame. Struggling lately to win singles matches, the Wolverines have been increasingly relying on the doubles point to pull out the victory.
Facing a crowd without familiar faces, Michigan can’t take its success for granted.
“I’m hoping this will really help us, because we’re still confident that we only lost one match this year and that’s been to the No. 3 team in the country, which was a competitive match,” Berque said. “But at the same time, it is pretty clear from this match that we’re far from being good enough to take any opponent lightly and we’ve got some individual skills to improve upon.”