With Saturday’s match against Notre Dame tied at three, the Michigan men’s tennis team was counting on freshman Alex Petrone to secure a win in the No. 3 singles match. Petrone had fought a valiant battle, but was unable to secure the victory for the Wolverines.
The 28th-ranked Wolverines (4-4) started the match off well, with all three doubles teams dominating the 30th-ranked Fighting Irish (9-4) and securing the first point of the match.
The No. 1 doubles team of Junior Evan King and Sophomore Shaun Bernstein demonstrated why it’s ranked the 10th nationally, maintaining consistent control and communication throughout the match and capitalizing on it’s momentum to bring in a 8-5 victory.
“Evan and Shaun did what they’ve been doing, and they played a focused match from the first point to the end,” said Michigan coach Bruce Berque.
With one win under its belt, Michigan was focused on the No. 2 doubles team of sophomores Barrett Franks and Alex Buzzi, whose strong offensive start was beginning to dwindle. With the duo leading the match 7-5 and up 40-30 in the game, Michigan fans cheered as the team to secure a tough win, 8-5, putting the Wolverines up 1-0 heading into singles play.
Early into the singles matches, it became apparent that the contest was up for grabs.
In the No. 2 singles slot, Notre Dame’s No. 49 Greg Andrews dominated the match against Bernsetein, winning the first set 6-3 and bringing the heat in the second, winning it 6-2 and tying the matchup at 1-1.
In the No. 5 singles slot between Franks dropped the first set to the Fighting Irish’s Blas Moros. Through Franks’ determination, he was able to tie the second set at six after being down 5-3. But Moros capitalized on Franks’ visible fatigue to win the second set, 8-6, bringing the score to a 2-1 Notre Dame lead.
One court over was No. 8 Evan King and Fighting Irish Casey Watts dueled for the No. 1 singles point. The first set resembled that of King’s match against Duke’s Henrique Cuna, with Watts hitting cross-court shots forcing King to run, leading to extreme fatigue and a dominant Fighting Irish win, 6-1.
“(Watts) played a ridiculous first set at a really high quality level, and I just had to do my best to stay out there and weather the storm,” King said. “I tweaked my game plan a little bit, and then I was able to win more points and he was able to not hit as many winners.”
But King stormed back in the second set to even the score. Then, Tied at five in the third set with King up 40-15, King stole the luck of the Irish and barely hit the line with a lob, bringing the third set to 6-5. King secured the 7-5 victory in the next game, tying the matchup at two.
“I was pumped up,” King said. “This is college tennis, it’s a team match. You’re not only competing for yourself and your individual ranking, you’re competing for Michigan.”
As No. 4 singles player Michael Zhu trailed the third set, 5-2, all eyes were on No. 6 singles player Alex Buzzi. After securing a win in the first set, 7-5, Buzzi was looking to finish strong in the second set.
Fighting Irish junior Michael Moore battled Buzzi throughout the second set, which was knetted at five all through 10 games.
But with the crowd behind him, Buzzi was able to secure a win of 7-5.
Down 5-3 in the third set, Petrone rallied and won the next game after playing six wild deuce points.
“I was just telling him to try to focus his attention on moving and working his feet, because when you’re in a tight situation like, that that’s what tends to slow down,” Berque said.
Berque’s advice proved to work, as Petrone dominated the 10th game, bringing the score to a tie at five. But Fighting Irish senior Sam Keeton brought the domination right back to Petrone, retaking the lead, 6-5.
“The other guy’s forehand was his weaker shot, but it had been holding up pretty much throughout the match, but under pressure that’s what had been starting to break down,” Berque said. “I was just trying to encourage him to keep the pressure on that side and he was doing it well.
“It was working well, and then, ironically, Alex’s forehand broke down.”
After Petrone came back to force a 6-6 tie, he began to get fatigued. The more experienced Keeton maintained his energy and went on to win the next two games to give the Fighting Irish a match victory, 4-3.
King said he was very proud of Petrone’s heart and effort on the court.
“We’re a young team right now — we’re going to have to scrap and we’re going to have to fight,” King said. “We’ll get better, and by the end of the year, we should be playing our best tennis.”