When two good tennis teams meet, the outcome of the match usually hinges on one or two key points. This was the case in Michigan’s 5-2 loss to No. 6 Vanderbilt Saturday afternoon at the Varsity Tennis Center in Ann Arbor.
No. 20 Michigan had its opportunities but failed to come up with the shots to win the key points.
The beginning of this trend started with doubles. With the first two doubles matches split, the team doubles point rested on the outcome of the No. 1 doubles match between Michigan’s 15th-ranked pairing of senior co-captain Michelle DaCosta and sophomore Kara Delicata and Vanderbilt’s combo of Audra Faulk and Annie Menees. The two pairs battled back and forth, trading games and unbelievable shots. Late in the match, Delicata was pulled wide off the court in an attempt to run down an angled shot. Her response was to drive the ball around the net in between the net post and umpire’s chair for a beautiful winner down the line.
All of this drama led to a deadlock at eight games, and started a tiebreaker to decide who would win the match and the team doubles point. Already leading 2-1 in the tiebreaker, Vanderbilt’s Faulk came up with a beautiful winner down the line to extend the lead. Then, while trailing 4-1, Delicata appeared to have a winner measured perfectly down the line until it clipped the top of the net and landed out of bounds. A big serve and a winner later, Vanderbilt had taken the tiebreaker, 7-1, giving it the team doubles point and leaving Michigan a little deflated and wondering what might have been.
“The doubles point is very key,” Michigan coach Bitsy Ritt said. “It gives a team the early momentum and can set the tone for the singles matches to follow.”
That statement ended up applying to the singles matches as well.
In the No. 1 singles match, No. 44 Michelle DaCosta stormed out to a 4-1 lead in the second set after having dropped the first set, 6-2, to No. 38 Faulk. But that was where the momentum ended, as Faulk roared back to take five straight games and win the match, 6-2, 6-4.
At No. 2 singles, Elizabeth Exon had the most frustrating match of the day. She had opportunities all match but couldn’t get it done. Facing Vanderbilt’s Amanda Fish, Exon had chances to grab an early edge, but, after failing to break Fish’s serve, Exon dropped four straight points on her own serve to lose the first set, 6-4. Playing to forget a miserable first set, Exon stormed ahead to a 3-0 second set lead. From there the wheels fell off. She made too many unforced errors, and Exon watched Fish win seven of the next nine games to take the set and the match, 6-4, 7-5.
Playing No. 6 singles, Debra Streifler saw her chances slip away as well. After losing a tough first set to Caroline Ferrell, 7-5, Streifler fought hard in the second set and had an opportunity to level the second set at five games a piece with a break point. The hope was short lived, as Ferrell saved the break point and won the match two points later.
Rounding out singles play were impressive Michigan victories from Delicata over Taka Bertrand at No. 3 singles, 7-6(5), 7-5, and Leanne Rutherford over Annie Menees at No. 4 singles, 6-4, 4-6, 1-0(9). Nina Yaftali suffered a tough loss at No. 5 singles to Amanda Taylor, 6-2, 6-2.
“Everything was really close today,” Ritt said. “We had some good wins from Kara and Leanne, but we also had tough losses at 1, 2 and 5.”
Earlier in the morning, Michigan’s No. 2 doubles tandem of Rutherford and Streifler fell to Vanderbilt’s nationally ranked (No. 20) duo of Fish and Bertrand, 8-4. This loss was offset when Exon and Yaftali stormed back from a 5-3 deficit to take the No. 3 doubles match, 8-6, over Amanda Taylor and Caroline Ferrell.
Despite the disappointing loss, Michigan found encouragement knowing that Vanderbilt is one of the best teams they will face all season.
“It’s great to play such strong competition,” Ritt said. “You never know where we’ll end up or where they’ll end up, but usually you can take these matches and learn from them to help you later in the season.”
The Wolverines travel to South Bend to take on No. 21 Notre Dame on Jan. 26.