Looking at the 4-0 score, it would appear that the Michigan men’s tennis team was sent home from the Big Ten Tournament in shameful fashion. But the Wolverines’ match with Illinois was anything but a blowout.

After defeating Michigan State (6-5 Big Ten, 18-11 overall) on Friday, No. 22 Michigan drew third-seeded Illinois in the Big Ten semifinals. No. 24 Illinois — which defeated its in-state rival, Northwestern — eliminated the Wolverines last season in the same tournament. Michigan (9-3, 17-7) had success against the Fighting Illini (8-3, 16-7) earlier in the season, upsetting then-No. 18 Illinois in Champaign, but couldn’t claim its second-straight victory on Saturday.

“The biggest difference between this match and our last (against Illinois) is that we played better in more courts last time,” said Michigan coach Bruce Berque. “I know that sounds like an oversimplification, but I really don’t think we served well and I don’t think we played as consistently as we wanted to. Illinois was really hungry and they got it done.”

Michigan didn’t get the start it was looking for, dropping the doubles point for just the third time against a Big Ten opponent all season. The Wolverines had lost their previous two Big Ten matches when losing the doubles point — aginst Minnesota and Ohio State — and lost their third straight on Saturday.

“Our No. 3 (doubles) team played very well, but we just didn’t play our best at No. 1 and No. 2 and didn’t execute well,” Berque said. “We made some mistakes we haven’t been making lately, and I think it’s just an execution thing.”

Illinois carried its momentum into singles, as it won five of the first six first sets. Only freshman Alex Petrone at No. 2 singles won his first set for Michigan.

“Petrone was toe-to-toe with a guy who is a senior and is No. 30 in the country, so I think that’s a big confidence boost for (Petrone) telling him that he can play with some of the best players in the country,” Berque said.

At No. 3 singles, sophomore Shaun Bernstein got off to a 2-0 start to get his first singles win since being injured. But his opponent, Bruno Abdelnour, rallied off five straight games before winning the set 6-3.

After having a chance to win the set at 6-5, sophomore Alex Buzzi dropped a tiebreaker before surrendering the first two games of the second set. Freshman Michael Zhu also dropped his back and forth first set in a tiebreaker.

“The first sets were close, and our guys were ready to play,” Berque said. “They went after it, and all of the first sets were competitive and close. Illinois got the better of them, and in the end they played at a more consistent level than we did today.”

On court one, seventh-ranked junior Evan King’s rematch with No. 8 Dennis Nevolo didn’t start off well for the top Wolverine, as King lost the first set after not recovering from an early break. In the second set, it was King who jumped ahead with a 3-0 lead.

Sophomore Barrett Franks lost a straight-set decision to Stephen Hoh to give Illinois a 2-0 lead on the match.

Minutes later, Bernstein dropped the second set and the match, after fighting for almost 15 minutes in the final game of the set only to lose it. With the loss, Michigan fell into a 0-3 hole with its tournament hopes on the line.

The Wolverines were hanging by a thread late, with two matches in third sets and another in a second-set tiebreaker. Illinois seized the opportunity, and Tim Kopinski controlled play in the second set as he defeated Zhu at No. 4 singles, eliminating Michigan from the tournament yet again.

“Even though we didn’t play as well as we needed to, I still feel like we’re getting better,” Berque said. “(Saturday) was the case of two steps forward and one step back. We took a small step back, but I think we will have our best tennis ready on the court when it comes time for our next match.”

Michigan drew Illinois in the semifinals after the Wolverines defeated seventh-seeded Michigan State, 4-1, in the Big Ten quarterfinals on Friday. Though Michigan surrendered its first dual point to the Spartans since 2010, it extended its win streak over its in-state rival to 10.

Michigan claimed the doubles point, as No. 1 and No. 3 doubles teams used hot starts to breeze by the Spartans, 8-3 and 8-4, respectively.

The Wolverines continued their success against the Spartans, as they claimed four of the first six sets. Franks and Buzzi each claimed 6-4 first sets at No. 5 and No. 6 singles, before both closed out their matches in straight sets. The two victories from the sophomore doubles partners put Michigan in front 3-0, one win from advancing.

The Spartans answered at No. 3 singles, as Bernstein lost yet another match since injuring his shoulder in late March. Unfortunately for Michigan State, the victory was too little, too late. Soon after, Petrone came through once again at No. 2 singles for the Wolverines.

Petrone finished off Denis Bogatov, 7-6, 6-3, after a furious first set comeback that saw him down 5-2. Petrone’s victory was his fifth in seven tries at No. 2 singles while Bernstein remains injured.

Despite the sooner-than-planned exit from the tournament, Michigan will still look forward to potentially earning a No. 2 seed at the NCAA Tournament in two weeks.

“We will go into the tournament as a No. 2 seed in our region, so we’re going to have to beat the No. 3 seed and then we’ll have to upset someone,” Berque said. “We haven’t talked about it yet (as a team), but I’m sure our goal is going to be to win two matches at regionals and find our way into the Sweet 16.”

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