Sophomore Evan King and senior Jason Jung of the Michigan men’s tennis team made plans to stay in Palo Alto, Calif. for Memorial Day Weekend. They also had their sights set on traveling to New York in early September – the location of the U.S. Open — where the winner of the NCAA Individual Championships earns a wild-card spot.
But those plans were cut short.
King reached the Sweet 16 in singles – something not done by a Wolverine in 19 years – before falling to the No. 5 seed, but not without earning All-American status. In doubles, King and Jung also reached the Sweet 16, before bowing out to the No. 5 seed as well.
In the first round, King upset No. 12 Tim Puetz of Auburn, but Jung failed to do the same against defending champion and No. 9 Bradley Klahn of Stanford, the school playing host for the tournament.
After several hours of a rain delay, King jumped out to an early 4-1 lead, breaking Puetz’s serve early. But the Auburn Tiger fought back to trim King’s lead to just one game. At 4-3, King suddenly turned on the jets. He cruised to win the next two games, before winning all six games of the second set.
The sophomore’s victory gave Michigan its first win in the NCAA Individual Championships since Matko Maravic won his first-round match four years earlier. King, the No. 21 seed in the tournament, would next face Gonzalo Escobar, a player ranked five spots below him.
Michigan’s captain Jung was unable to reach day two of the tournament in singles with King.
Against the NCAA singles defending champion, Jung rallied off three straight games in the first set to take a 5-3 lead. But Jung was unable to close out the set twice and Klahn pushed the set to five games apiece, before closing out the set in a competitive tiebreaker which featured spectacular shots from both sides.
But once the second set started, Klahn kept the advantage. Klahn broke Jung to go up 3-2 before cruising through the next three games to eliminate Jung from the singles draw.
“The second set got away from (Jung) a little bit, but what I saw looked pretty good,” Michigan coach Bruce Berque said. “It was a tough draw, but most draws are tough draws in this tournament.”
King kicked off day two of the tournament with his singles match in the morning. King dropped the first set 6-3 and was broken to open the second set.
But King responded with a second-set victory, pushing the match to a decisive third set, in which Michigan’s sophomore sensation never looked back, completing a six-game rally to win the match.
The win propelled King to the Sweet 16 and officially earned him ITA All-American status – an honor a Wolverine hasn’t had in four years.
Just over two hours after King won to reach the Sweet 16 in singles, he stepped on the court to do the same in doubles.
Originally slated to play the No. 1 doubles team from national champion USC, King and Jung caught a lucky break, as the Trojan pair pulled their names from the doubles draw. Instead the Wolverine duo played the No. 32 pair in the country from UCLA, Adrian Puget and Alex Brigham.
Despite dropping a tough first set, King and Jung found their stride winning the second set before cruising to a three-set victory 4-6, 6-3, 6-1. The win over the UCLA duo sent King and Jung to the Sweet 16 for the second time as a doubles team, despite not playing together since April.
Day three of the tournament started off with King’s third-round singles match against rival No. 5 Blaz Rola. The freshman No. 1 singles player from Ohio State met King twice earlier in the year, taking each match in three sets.
Rola claimed the lead early and eventually took the first set. Rola broke King again two games later to take a 3-0 lead and a strangle-hold on the set and the match.
“Rola was getting to him and Evan was making errors,” Berque said. “If you make a few errors and allow yourself to get frustrated, it quickly translates to more errors, and today, he didn’t manage his frustration too well, and I think that was the biggest difference between yesterday and today.”
With the match seemingly in control, Rola pushed his lead to 5-0 with stellar serving and solid returns of serve before closing out the set without dropping a game and closing out the match in straight sets.
“In this tournament, Evan kind of made three steps forward and one step back,” Berque said. “He lost to a very good player, but unfortunately it wasn’t his best tennis today.”
The loss ended King’s singles season, but King’s final 30-9 record was the best by a Wolverine since 1998.
King later took the court with Jung for their second-round doubles match against No. 5 Roberto Maytin and John Peers from Baylor.
Maytin and Peers played the majority of the first set from behind, but broke King’s serve to knot the set at five, before holding serve to take a 6-5 lead.
But the Wolverines responded to send the set into a tiebreaker.
Despite fighting off one set point, the Wolverines dropped a back-and-forth tiebreaker to lose the first set for the second time in the tournament.
“We had a chance to serve out the first set but were unable to do so, and that was a big turning point in the match,” Berque said. “We had execution problems with first serves and finishing out some points, and then we got into a tiebreaker and one or two points changed the match.”
But unlike the first round, King and Jung’s opponent jumped out to an early lead, as they broke the Wolverine pair in the first game of the second set.
Later in the set, as King and Jung were trying to claw back, they were broken for the second time in the set, surrendering a 4-1 lead to the Bears.
At 5-2, No. 5 Baylor was serving for the match. Jung missed a forehand into the net at break point, missing a golden opportunity to get back into the set. At deuce, the Bears quickly won the next two points to clinch the game, set, and the match, 7-6, 6-2.
As disappointing as the loss was for King and Jung, Jung ended his Michigan tennis career with 89 doubles wins – just one win shy of the all-time record – while King ended his season with tournament experience and All-American honors in singles.
“(King will) be coming back as one of the better players in the country and I’m sure he’s going to improve over the summer,” Berque said. “I’m looking for him to be a great player for us next year at the top of the lineup in singles and doubles.”