Even though the results don’t affect the Wolverines’ record, the Michigan men’s tennis team played in its first tournament of the season this weekend in Cambridge, Mass. This weekend served as a debut for the team’s three freshmen and junior Evan King, who went undefeated this weekend as a nationally ranked top-ten player.
Because of the nature of the tournament, all eight Wolverines found themselves playing both singles and doubles all weekend.
On day one of the Harvard Fall Chowder Invitational, Michigan faced off against Texas A&M, a team with no freshmen. Michigan was able to win just three of the eight singles matches, and only one of the four doubles matches.
After winning a tough first set, No. 8 King was able to cruise to a straight-sets victory over No. 42 Alexis Klegou of Texas A&M. King won his first match with ease, as he was simply too much for the senior from France.
“I think (Evan) is going to continue to perform well and get better and better every match,” Michigan coach Bruce Berque said. “He’s been doing a good job of stepping into the leadership role and I expect it to continue.”
In doubles, the No. 33-ranked pair of King and sophomore Shaun Bernstein was the only team to win the eight-game pro-set for the Wolverines. Like last season, the rest of the Michigan team struggled in doubles. But this was only the first time most of the doubles pairs had played together in a match this season, especially the freshmen, leaving plenty of room for improvement.
“It was a really big positive to see Evan (King) and Shaun (Bernstein) playing good doubles,” Berque said. “We were also pretty impressed that the younger guys were able to play at a pretty aggressive level and were able to play how we wanted them to play on Saturday.”
On Saturday, against three-time defending champion USC, King was the only player to win a singles match for Michigan, as he surrendered just four games en route to a straight-sets win over No. 16 Daniel Nguyen. King’s opponent was one of three Trojans ranked in the top 60. King was among the only two Wolverines to win his singles match on Sunday against Harvard.
“We need to do a lot to improve in singles,” Berque said. “Some of it is skill development, and some of it is inexperience and learning how to compete at a higher level and manage our emotions when things aren’t going well.”
The Wolverines were more fortunate in doubles. King and Bernstein picked up their second victory of the weekend as a pair, and sophomore Justin Rossi and freshman Michael Zhu won their first match as a team, upsetting US Open competitor Steve Johnson and his partner Michael Grant.
“We got a lot of quality matches and we were very optimistic that we were going to go in there and compete with some quality opponents in singles and doubles,” Berque said.
Against Harvard, King and Bernstein won their second match Saturday, 9-8, finishing the weekend undefeated in doubles. Rossi and Zhu also defeated their second doubles opponent of the day to finish the weekend 2-1 in doubles.
Also on Saturday, the freshman pair of Eli Brown and Alex Petrone won their first match as a doubles team for the Wolverines.
The day before, Petrone notched his first win of his college career in an easy straight sets victory, in which he only lost four games. Petrone also defeated Harvard on Sunday, the only Wolverine to do so other than King.
Despite Petrone’s first singles victory, the two other freshmen, Brown and Zhu, were less fortunate, as they each fell to more experienced opponents in his match.
“We have things to work on and we have to mature as we play better competitors,” Berque said. “In a lot of our matches, we learned about where some of the new guys are and what they can do to improve.”
Despite the small setback on Sunday for the freshmen, Berque felt there was improvement each day of the tournament. The team will have time to get even better and work out doubles combinations and singles lineups before they take the court again as a team in November.
“We started off looking pretty good, and I thought that everyone was playing pretty well, but our youth kind of caught up to us,” Berque said. “Overall, we think things will work out well.”
Although the freshmen will have to wait to get back on the court, King and Bernstein will have to get right back to work before they head to Tulsa, Oklahoma next week. King will compete in singles and will play doubles with Bernstein in the ITA All-American Championships.