The same weekend the Michigan football team lost to its rivals from East Lansing for the fourth-straight time, Michigan men’s tennis junior Evan King beat three consecutive Ohio State Buckeyes to advance to the finals of the ITA Midwest Regional Championships.
Though he eventually fell to the No. 2-ranked player in the country, Blaz Rola, King made the most noise of any Wolverine. He avenged one loss from last season against No. 5 Chase Buchanan before almost avenging another in his final match of the weekend.
Despite his teammates’ efforts to win more than one singles match at the tournament, Michigan’s top player and the tournament’s No. 3 seed was superb. King defeated his first four opponents from Western Michigan, Ohio State, and Notre Dame without dropping a set.
“King’s tennis level was as good as I have seen it all this year for sure, but he was very consistent mentally and didn’t waste a lot of energy,” Berque said.
On Friday, King dominated Nadin Indre from Western Michigan in his only singles match, before beating Ohio State’s Kevin Matka, 7-5, 6-3, Saturday morning. Later in the day, King took the court again and defeated Samuel Keeton, dropping only five games in two sets.
The banner day from King got better when he and sophomore Shaun Bernstein won their second-round match as a doubles pair over Michigan State. King’s doubles match was his third court appearance on Saturday and his fifth match in two days.
The fourth-seeded pair won its first match against DePaul, as did the two other Wolverine duos. But King and Bernstein were the only Michigan duo to advance further, winning twice on Saturday to reach the quarterfinals on Sunday.
On Sunday, for the second-straight day, King played in three matches. In King’s only singles match of the day, he defeated No. 33 Peter Kobelt from Ohio State. After fighting for the first set, King cruised in the second en route to yet another straight-set victory.
Bernstein and King’s 8-5 win over Alexander Pelaez and Tuomas Manner of Illinois State, who had previously beaten the Michigan pair of freshman Alex Petrone and sophomore Barrett Franks, set up King’s second match of the day against Kobelt. This time, the 6-foot-7 Buckeye paired with Buchanan — slated to be King’s third Buckeye singles opponent in the semifinals on Monday — to try and reverse the day’s fortunes against King.
Kobelt and Buchanan did just that. With the match knotted at six games apiece, the Buckeyes closed out the match and set up an all-Ohio State final in doubles.
“It came down to just one break, and I think we couldn’t break their serve,” Berque said. “The game that we got broken, we didn’t make many first serves.”
On Monday, King hoped to prevent an all-Buckeye final in singles as well, as he took the court against Buchanan.
In April, King took the first set against Buchanan before losing the next two. But Monday was different. Buchanan jumped out to an early first-set lead before breaking King’s serve in the final game to win the set 7-5.
King continued the trend of reversing his fortune against Buchanan. He broke Buchanan’s first service game of the set and didn’t look back, winning the second set 6-0 in a matter of 20 minutes. In the final set, King broke Buchanan’s serve early yet again and never looked back, winning 6-3 and earning a spot in the finals.
In the singles final, King took on familiar foe in Ohio State’s Rola. In May, Rola defeated King in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament with ease. This time, King made sure the match wasn’t a breeze for Rola.
The match started out evenly, until Rola broke King’s serve in the first set. One break was all Rola needed to win the first set. In the second set, King had a familiar fate. After being broken once, King was unable to recover.
“It was a really high level match from both of them, and there was only one break in each set,” Berque said. “Rola was down break points, and he served bigger and more consistently than Evan did. A couple key points here and there and it could have been different.”
The tone was much different than their match in May, during which King only won three games the entire match.