For the past eight years, the Michigan men’s tennis team couldn’t beat a top-15 squad. But after Saturday night, one thing was clear.
2007 is a whole new year.
Coming out strong, the 32nd-ranked Wolverines downed No. 12 Texas, a 2006 final-four team, in convincing fashion, 5-2, in front of a record crowd at the Varsity Tennis Center.
While most spectators were tuned into the No. 1 singles match that featured senior Brian Hung defeating Dimitar Kutrovsky (6-4, 6-3), junior Matko Maravic and sophomore Andrew Mazlin turned in dominant performances of their own. They both won in straight sets.
“(Matko) stepped it up and played a very smart match,” Michigan coach Bruce Berque said. “He competed like a champ, and he made a commitment to himself and to his teammates that he was going to just compete. He definitely did that.”
Mazlin drew rave reviews with two strong matches of his own. Seeking help from coaches during the week and warming up before the team got out on Saturday, Mazlin was mentally prepared for the weekend. He downed Longhorn sophomore Jonah Kane-West in straight sets (6-4, 6-2) and teamed up with senior Ryan Heller to beat Bernhard Deussner and Josh Zavala, 8-5. Mazlin was the first off the court in both singles and doubles, as both matches ended quickly.
After a stellar showing against Texas at the Miami Invitational, Michigan was very loose going into Saturday’s matchup.
“All of us as a team had an outstanding practice, really the best practice I think we had,” senior Steve Peretz said. “We were really enjoying it. Every single member on the team was confident, playing well, enjoying it and really looking forward to the opportunity like I’ve never seen before.”
The Wolverines claimed all their doubles matches, taking the psychologically crucial point into the locker room. The momentum carried over into singles, where five of six Wolverines took their first set.
Peretz put on a good show, taking the first set easily against Deussner 6-1. But some late struggles in the second set led to a super-tiebreak. Peretz rallied from being down 4-2 to win the match 12-10.
Heller didn’t have as much luck in his super-tiebreak. Facing who Berque called the Longhorns’ most talented player, Heller held his own early against Miguel Reyes Varela. But fatigue and a hip injury led to Heller losing the second-set tiebreak. Reyes Varela struck early in the super-tiebreak going up 9-2 and eventually won 10-7 despite a comeback attempt by Heller.
The Wolverines still pulled out the impressive victory over the Longhorns, and Peretz knows that this group is different from previous Michigan teams.
“Our team really doesn’t show much weakness,” Peretz said. “A lot of our guys know we can count on every single spot: 1-2-3 in doubles, 1-2-3-4-5-6 in singles and everyone else. Everyone has a great team effort. And the biggest difference this year over last year is confidence. We’re very confident with our games.”
Michigan’s ranking is sure to rise after the impressive win. The Wolverines have not been ranked in the top 25 since 2000. But they still have other things in mind.
“We set our goals to have fun and just enjoy every match we’re going to play,” Maravic said. “I think our hard work is going to show in the end what we can do. I don’t really want to think about, ‘We beat Texas. They’re No. 12 in the country. We’re going to move in the rankings.’ I think we should just keep practicing hard. It’s a long season.”
In the meantime, they’ll be enjoying this one.
“Our goals are very high,” Peretz said. “We’re far from satisfied with this. But I have to say, it is nice now.”