In early April, the men’s tennis team overcame an early deficit to beat Illinois for the first time in 10 years. Saturday, at the Big Ten Tournament, the two teams matched up again.
This time there was no comeback. There was no upset.
The 20th-ranked Wolverines fell 4-1 to the ninth-ranked Fighting Illini in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
“We simply did not play as well as last time and Illinois was hungry and determined to get some revenge,” Michigan coach Bruce Berque said. “They played better than last time and our level was a little lower.”
The Illini came out strong, sweeping the doubles matches.
“They played great at doubles, they really took it to us,” Berque said.
In the win against Illinois earlier this month, Michigan also conceded the doubles point.
But unlike last time, Illinois (10-3 Big Ten, 18-8 overall) didn’t squander its lead.
“They came out really fiery in doubles and we never really got going right away,” senior co-captain Ryan Heller said. “We lost the doubles point last time, but I think we played more competitive.”
Despite the poor performance in doubles, the Wolverines felt confident heading into singles.
“That was the same situation as last time we played Illinois, and the matchups were good, so we felt we had a good shot in singles,” Berque said. “We had a shot to get it done. We just didn’t get it done.”
Matko Maravic and Steve Peretz lost matches to the same players that they had beaten in the first contest. No. 49 Maravic fell 1-6, 7-6, 2-6 to No. 23 Ryan Rowe, while Peretz lost 3-6, 3-6 to Brandon Davis.
“The combination of Steve not playing as well and his opponent playing better than last time was surprising because we thought that was a good matchup for us,” Berque said.
Just two of the singles points were decided in straight sets. Brian Hung and Andrew Mazlin did not finish their games because Illinois had already won the overall match.
“All of the matches in singles were very close,” Berque said. “We just lost most of the close ones. It could have gone either way, but we didn’t play well enough.”
Michigan defeated Indiana 4-1 Friday to advance to the semifinals of the tournament. It marked the third year in a row that the Wolverines had reached the semifinals.
But this team is much evolved from those of the previous years, as Michigan accomplished its best finish in the Big Ten regular season since 1999.
“I think we are a much better team this year,” Heller said. “We played well the other years, but we still got crushed. This year against Illinois, we were right there with them, and if a couple points went the other way, we could have come out ahead.”
Unlike years past, the Wolverines believe they can hang with the top teams in the country.
“We’ve never been in a match before this year (against Illinois and Ohio State); it was clear from the beginning that we had no chance,” Berque said. “Of the three times we have played them (this year), we have been in every match.”
The Wolverines will have to continue their development if they hope to fare well in the NCAA Tournament. The team awaits the selection of the tournament field, which will be announced tomorrow.
Berque knows that it will not be difficult to motivate his team in the upcoming week.
“They know if they don’t play up to par, the next match could be their last, and nobody wants that,” Berque said.