The Michigan’s women’s tennis team welcomed No. 4 Northwestern to the Varsity Tennis Center yesterday.
Trying to pull off the upset, the Wolverines gave everything they had to knock off the Wildcats. Michigan hung tough in virtually every match, but the team had too much fight and not enough finish in a 7-0 loss.
“I thought we fought hard,” Michigan coach Bitsy Ritt said. “Northwestern is tough. Give them credit, we came up short – way short.”
The most telling matches of the day were at No. 1 and No. 4 singles. The overall match had already been decided, but both individual matches appeared to be going Michigan’s way early. Then they took drastic turns for Northwestern late.
Kara Delicata raced out to a 6-3, 4-0 lead over Cristelle Grier, ranked ninth in the nation, in the No. 1 singles match. From there, the junior ran out of gas. Grier claimed seven of the next eight games to force a third set super tiebreaker (first to 10 points) which she won 10-6.
At No. 4 singles, senior Debra Streifler coasted to a relatively easy 6-3 first-set victory., and appeared poised to extend her record at No. 4 singles to 8-0 this season. But Northwestern’s Georgia Rose had other ideas. Rose started extending points by keeping more balls in play and frustrated Streifler into going for bigger shots and making unforced errors in an attempt to end points early. Rose won the second set, 6-1, and then took the third set, 6-3, to win the match.
Those matches could have made the final score a little friendlier for Michigan (2-1 Big Ten, 8-5 overall), but Ritt was not concerned with the difference between a 5-2 and a 7-0 loss.
“If (Delicata and Streifler) could have gotten those wins, it would have been great for them individually,” Ritt said. “But in terms of the team, there’s no such thing as a moral victory in coming up short, 4-3, as opposed to love-seven.”
Northwestern (3-0, 11-3) started the day by taking the doubles point with 8-5 wins at both No. 2. and No. 3 doubles to overcome an exciting 9-8(3) win by Delicata and Streifler at No. 1 doubles. Senior Nina Yaftali fell 6-1, 6-1, at No. 2 singles, and junior Elizabeth Exon was overpowered, 6-1, 6-3 at No. 3 singles to give the Wildcats a comfortable cushion at the start.
Down a set at No. 6 singles, sophomore Allie Shafner battled her way to a 5-4 second-set lead over Northwestern’s Nazlie Ghazal, but the freshman fought back to take the next two games, and the two found themselves in deuce. A few points away from a tiebreaker and possible third set, Ghazal came up with two good points, hitting a service winner on match point to snuff out any hopes of a comeback for Shafner.
Michigan freshman Chisako Sugiyama held a 5-4 lead in the first set of her match at No. 5 singles before the Wildcats’ Feriel Esseghir came charging back, behind some great play from the baseline, to take the first set 7-5. Esseghir carried the momentum from the comeback into an easy 6-2 second-set win to take the match against a visibly shaken Sugiyama.
The lopsided defeat was a compete turnaround from Saturday, when the Wolverines dominated visiting Wisconsin, 7-0. Despite following up a solid win with a lopsided loss to Northwestern, Ritt is excited about what this Michigan team can do this season.
“I like this team.” Ritt said. “There’s still so much tennis to be played, and we’re still learning a lot about ourselves. This was a real challenge for us this weekend, and I was proud about how we came out and beat Wisconsin and proud of our effort (yesterday).”