In its first return to the courts since its successful inaugural season under head coach Bruce Berque, the Michigan tennis team yielded mixed results at the Tom Fallon Invitational in South Bend. The Wolverines played 30 singles matches along with 14 doubles matches during the three-day event, which included eight teams. Although the official matches did have an impact on individual team members’ records and rankings, the teams were not ranked in order of finish.
“The biggest use (of the Invitational) was to get some matches, but also to provide a measuring stick for where we are as a group right now and what we need to work on,” Berque said.
This especially pertained to the four freshmen on the team – Peter Aarts, Mike DiPietro, Andrew Mazlin and Steve Bruckmann – who saw their first competitive action at the collegiate level. Last season, Michigan finished with a 15-10 record, good enough for third place in the Big Ten, the team’s best showing in five years. But only half of the team returns and there were questions whether the four new players could fill the roles of the departed seniors.
Some of those questions were answered this weekend, as the freshmen were fairly successful. Aarts, DiPietro and Mazlin each won three of their four matches, and Bruckmann split four contests. The freshmen hardly played their age, and showed their mettle and resolve during their matches. Each newcomer gritted out one grueling three-set victory during the weekend. If the players were awed or unnerved by the differences between collegiate athletics and junior tournaments, they did not show it.
“It was definitely a different experience,” Aarts said. “There was a lot more energy than juniors, a much different atmosphere.”
Coach Berque was also impressed.
“The freshmen all did a pretty good job.” Berque said. “All four new guys have a lot of room for improvement. But I think they’re going to be much better players four months from now.”
The four returning players drew both positives and negatives from the weekend’s matches. Juniors Ryan Heller and Steve Peretz won three out of their combined seven matches. Junior Brian Hung split his four matches but pulled off a three-set upset of No. 82 Jeremy Sonkin of Wisconsin, in one of the best matches of the weekend.
No. 42 sophomore Marko Maravic started the weekend slowly with a loss to No. 74 Stephen Bass of Notre Dame but recovered to win his next two contests and finish with a singles record of 2-1 for the weekend. He had to shake off the rust on Friday, after recovering most of the summer from an injury.
“I think I played pretty well in all my matches,” Maravic said. “My first match was a little worse than my other two, but I think I started playing better throughout the weekend.”
The Wolverines evenly split their 14 doubles matches, and Berque cited this as his biggest area of concern for the upcoming season.
“We only have one team that played a lot of doubles together last year,” Berque said. “(With) all the new guys, we just kind of paired them together in new combinations. That’s one area we’re just going to spend some time with in practice.”
Hung and Maravic are the only returning doubles team from this past season. They entered this weekend ranked No. 22 in the nation but lost two of their four matches. Heller and Mazlin also split their four contests.