As the old adage goes: “To be the best, you have to beat the best.”
But it never said anything about beating the best consistently. And though Michigan fields one of the elite collegiate women’s tennis teams, it too faltered in the face of three top-15 opponents in three days.
The No. 10 Michigan team began its run in the 2012 National ITA Women’s Team Indoor Championships with a 4-0 shutout win on Friday over No. 15 Clemson at The Boars Head Sports Club in Charlottesville, Va.
After easily clinching the doubles point, the Wolverines won three consecutive matches, behind the racquets of freshman Emina Bektas, junior Mimi Nguyen, and freshman Sarah Lee, who played at the No. 1, No. 3, and No. 4 singles spots, respectively. The three players who had not yet finished their singles matches had their matches abandoned after Michigan earned the decisive fourth point.
“Clemson’s a team that’s very solid,” said Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein. “That was a really good win for us.”
The following day, though, No. 3 Duke turned the story around on Michigan. The No. 1 doubles team of Bektas and sophomore Brooke Bolender won its opening match, but it wasn’t enough. The top-seeded Blue Devils prevailed in every other facet of play, winning the remaining two doubles matches as well as the first three singles matches. Just like on the previous day, three Wolverines were stranded on the court — but this time, after being handed a 4-0 shutout loss.
“Against Duke, we fell a bit flat,” Bernstein said. “We definitely did not play our best.”
The loss spoiled Michigan’s aspirations to go further in the main draw of the tournament, but the Wolverines were matched against No. 6 Georgia in consolation play on Sunday. Once again, the duo of Bektas and Bolender won its opening doubles match, 8-2, but the Bulldogs won the other two doubles matches to take the point. Then, Lee, who has not dropped a singles match this season, defeated her singles opponent in straight sets, 6-1, 6-1.
Deadlocked at one, the Wolverines pulled ahead when Bektas defeated the nation’s No. 2 collegiate player, Chelsey Gullickson, in straight sets, 6-2, 7-5. With the victory, Bektas maintained her perfect singles record.
“She lost to (Gullickson) in the fall, so that shows improvement,” Bernstein said. “It’s a big win for Emina. She’s getting more and more confidence in herself. She sees herself coming through, and today it went to a tiebreaker in the second set and she was able to pull it out. We look forward to her doing that even more.”
But once again, it wasn’t enough. Georgia rallied to win the four remaining singles matches to emerge with a 5-2 victory, ending Michigan’s ITA indoor journey.
“Obviously, you’re not happy with a loss (against Georgia), but I think we did a good job today setting ourselves in position to win the match,” Bernstein said. “We just came up a little bit short.”
“I think (our performance was) positive — it’s an extremely tough weekend,” she added. “We’re playing Duke and Georgia. Duke’s a top five team. I think Georgia could be as well.”
Next Wednesday, the Wolverines will head to East Lansing to take on Michigan State.
“We’re gonna take a couple days off,” Bernstein said. “I think that’s what we need right now. We’ve had a tough stretch here. This weekend’s pretty physical with three matches, so it’ll be a good week and a half that we can just come back home and get ready for Michigan State.”