The Michigan men’s tennis team is hitting its stride at just the right time, heading down the home stretch of the season and into the Big Ten Tournament.
Coming off an impressive victory just one day earlier against Illinois, the Wolverines (6-1 Big Ten, 11-7 Overall) soundly defeated Northwestern (3-4, 17-7) on Sunday by a final score of 6-1.
It was Michigan’s fourth consecutive victory, marking its longest winning streak of the season as it looks to solidify its place as the Big Ten’s top team.
The match started well for the Wolverines, as they took the best-of-three doubles point in a long, hard-fought battle. All three doubles matches came down to the wire, including the thrilling deciding point between juniors Barrett Franks and Alex Buzzi and Northwestern’s Mihir Kumar and Raleigh Smith. The game went to a tiebreaker before the Michigan pair ultimately came out victorious, 9-8.
“We were fortunate to win doubles,” said Michigan coach Bruce Berque. “We had three extremely close matches and a really long doubles point, and that was pretty critical that we were able to get that and get the momentum after doubles.”
The doubles point was even more impressive because Michigan’s pair of senior Even King and junior Shaun Bernstein, who are 12th in the nation and one of the team’s most reliable doubles combos, lost their point. It was just the third defeat in doubles for King, and the loss forced the Wolverines’ other two pairs to step up and lead the way. And lead they did, with the doubles point providing to be adequate momentum to take control the rest of the way and extinguish Northwestern’s comeback hopes.
Though Michigan went on to win five of the six singles points, the match was not as dominating as the final score indicates. In addition to the grueling doubles point, King was not at his best and endured two difficult sets before winning his match, 6-4, 7-6, while Buzzi and sophomore Vlad Stefan both rallied from early deficits to win their matches in three sets.
On the bright side, junior Barrett Franks continued his strong play with a dominating 6-2, 6-4 victory in his singles match, marking his ninth-straight singles win. The Wolverines won the first five points before finally dropping one, and their overall 6-1 victory matched their most lopsided win of the season. Michigan has now won seven of its last eight matches, and has run its home record to 6-2 at the Varsity Tennis Center.
“I think we’re doing well,” Berque said. “I think we’ve got a good team and I think our guys are confident in themselves and in each other. They did a great job maintaining confidence and belief even when we were struggling with our record.”
But it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see the Wolverines win late in conference play. Their early season troubles were primarily due to facing off against elite competition, which included five matches against top-25 teams.
“We played a very strong schedule this year and we lost some very close matches to very top teams,” Berque said. “But they did a good job sticking with it and recognizing that we were playing good tennis and we were just falling a little short against some top teams. I think that is going to help us at the end of the season and make us that much more hungry for success.”
Having played four of its last six matches at home, Michigan will look to continue to finds success against Big Ten competition in its upcoming three-game road trip against Nebraska, Iowa and Penn State. The stretch should also provide a good opportunity for the Wolverines to continue their winning streak, with the three opponents holding a combined Big Ten record of just 2-11.