This weekend, the No. 21 Michigan men’s tennis team (4-2) traveled to South Bend, Ind., to take on No. 29 Notre Dame (5-4) at the Eck Tennis Pavilion.
The hype for this rivalry match was great, as a 4-3 score has decided each of their last three encounters. This match was no different.
“(Notre Dame) always does a great job and is always competitive,” said Michigan coach Bruce Berque. “They have been playing well lately and were very hungry for this match.”
Looking to bounce back from last week’s loss to No. 9 Duke, the Wolverines needed to start strong and earn the doubles point. Searching for consistency, Michigan put out the same doubles lineup.
But the doubles play started poorly for the Wolverines, as they gave up multiple breaks and ultimately lost at the second doubles spot.
“We got off to a pretty bad start at No. 2,” Berque said. “We weren’t executing and had a lot of opportunities. We lost all of the deuce points – the sudden-death points.”
But Michigan gained its composure and fired back, forcing tiebreakers in both the No. 1 and No. 3 doubles spots. With all of the momentum, the Wolverines earned a quick tiebreak win with the ninth-ranked pair of senior Evan King and junior Shaun Bernstein defeating Notre Dame’s pair of Greg Andrews and Spencer Talmadge, 8-7.
“It was a fun match,” King said. “As college athletes, we love to compete. We battled from behind and when our backs were against the wall, we played our best tennis. We enjoyed the moment and went after the match.”
Soon after, Michigan earned a victory at the No. 3 doubles spot when sophomore Michael Zhu and sophomore Alex Petrone clinched the doubles point for Michigan with their victory over Ryan Bandy and Matt Dooley, 8-7.
“(The doubles point is) an important point,” Berque said. “When you are heading into a close match you definitely want the doubles point. Every point is important.”
The Wolverines wanted to take their hard-earned doubles point into the singles play by coming out with full force. But this was not the case, as Notre Dame won five of the first six sets.
Notre Dame got the first singles point with a victory at the No. 3 spot. But Michigan responded when junior Barrett Franks dismantled Bandy, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1.
But then Michigan fell behind the Fighting Irish, 3-2, and needing some sort of boost, it looked to King. The seasoned veteran displayed his consistency, earning his 10th-straight victory by defeating No. 71 Andrews, 6-2, 6-7, 6-2. This victory is King’s 13th on the season, and he has yet to lose a singles match in 2013.
“I knew if I stuck to my game plan and went after my shots then I would be successful in the third set,” King said. “I stayed confident throughout the match and I knew eventually I could get the job done.”
With Saturday’s win, King moved to sixth on Michigan’s all-time singles wins list, tying William Farah (1996-98).
“It’s awesome,” King said. “Michigan tennis has a ton of history — a really rich history. When I look back on this, it’s going to be pretty awesome. I’m honored and looking forward to breaking that tie.”
The match ended up coming down to the No. 4 singles match in which Zhu faced Billy Pecor. After a difficult first set, Zhu needed to find a way to break Pecor’s serve. Although they stayed on serve for the second set, Zhu pulled out a close tiebreaker, forcing a third set — a set that would decide the dual. In the third, Zhu was was unable to pull out the victory losing, 6-4, 6-7, 6-4.
“We have to do everything we can to get ready for Tulsa at home,” Berque said. “We will get back to work to try to get better and try to improve the doubles and get three teams executing well at the same time. We want to play with discipline and energy on all three courts.”