A good start is something the Michigan men’s tennis team has been working towards all season. Prior to Friday’s Big Ten Tournament match against No. 4-seeded Illinois, the No. 5-seeded Wolverines had only won the doubles point to start the match six times in 16 tries.

But on Friday, Michigan would come from behind to clinch the doubles point for the first time in five matches. The doubles effort was not enough, as the Illini won more singles matches to defeat the Wolverines 4-3, and send Michigan waiting to hear their NCAA Tournament fate later this week.

After dropping the first doubles match at No. 3 in a hurry, the Wolverine No. 2 of sophomore Evan King and freshman Barrett Franks beat their opponents to knot the doubles score at one.

On Court No. 1, the duo of senior Jason Jung and freshman Shaun Bernstein was in a battle. After falling behind 5-3 in the set, Michigan’s No. 2 had just won their match, pushing the fate of the doubles point in Jung and Bernstein’s hands.

With the doubles point resting on their match, the Wolverine No. 1 stormed ahead of the Illini and never looked back, winning five straight games en route to an 8-5 victory, giving Michigan the doubles point and the early 1-0 lead.

“We put ourselves in a better position to win the match this time around by winning the doubles point and we did a good job at No. 1 and No. 2 doubles,” Michigan coach Bruce Berque said.

As singles play started, the Wolverines were ready for what had been their strength all season long. But Michigan did not get a good start in singles, as five of the six Wolverines dropped their first sets. Just Jung and Bernstein were able to win their first sets.

“While we did go down on many courts, we did try to make sure the urgency was there,” Berque said. “We got the message to our team that just like we don’t panic when we lose the doubles point, we can’t think we’ve won the match when we won the doubles point.”

Franks was the first Wolverine to fall in singles. After not winning a game in the first set, Franks played a pesky second set, before finally losing at No. 4 singles, a spot he had been so successful at all season. Franks’ loss sent the dual into a 1-1 tie.

Not before long, freshman Justin Rossi lost at No. 5 singles to No. 79 Abe Souza, one of only a few ranked players Rossi faced during the regular season.

But Bernstein wouldn’t let Illinois have the lead for too long, and he completed his straight set victory at No. 3 singles to tie the dual at two.

With the match tied and three matches remaining, the Wolverines had sophomore sensation Evan King, and their two seniors, Jung and Chris Madden, on the court, having to win two-out-of-three to move on to the third round of the tournament.

Jung, who had won his first set, dropped the second set before he had some trouble in the third. Fighting through cramps, Jung was unable to capture the third set and dropped his match at No. 2 singles, giving the Illini a one point lead in the dual.

But King answered at No. 1. Despite losing the first set, King stormed back in the second set to fight off match points against No. 14 Dennis Nevolo. Serving at 5-4, Nevolo had a chance to end King’s Big Ten season. Nevolo was unable to do so, as King rallied three straight games to win the set 7-5. In the third set, it was all King, as he won 6-1 to tie the dual at three.

With the match knotted at three, Madden was the only remaining player on the court. His match would determine the Wolverines’ Big Ten tournament fate. But Madden was never able to take the lead, and he fell in straight sets at No. 6 singles, sending Illinois into the next round of the tournament.

“It’s real disappointing,” Berque said. “Our team was excited about the rematch, and they went out to get it done and played well, but in the end they couldn’t execute the way they wanted to. We were close again but not close enough.”

Despite the tough loss, Michigan still has its eyes set on the NCAA Tournament. Berque explained that the Wolverines could wind up as either a two or three seed.

“We will see who we play in the first round,” Berque said. “This has been an opportunity we’ve been looking forward to as a team all year, and one of our big goals for the season was to advance to regionals and we have a pretty good chance to do that.”

The Wolverines will learn their NCAA destination on Tuesday, when the selection show takes place. But for now, Michigan will only be able to watch what happens in the Big Ten Tournament.

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