After earning the doubles point in impressive fashion over No. 22 North Carolina, the Michigan men’s tennis team looked poised for a huge upset last night at the Varsity Tennis Center.
But the Tar Heels’ strong singles play gave them a 6-1 victory.
With wins by the pairs junior Jason Jung and freshman Evan King at first doubles and senior captain George Navas and senior Mike Sroczynski at the second spot, the Wolverines (3-4) took the early 1-0 lead in the dual match. They earned the point as a result of taking two out of three doubles matches.
The Wolverines have won the doubles point in six out of seven matches, despite a 3-4 record. The script for last night’s match was the same, but the Tar Heels turned it on once singles started.
“The thing you’ve gotta remember is once the doubles point is over, it’s a brand new match,” said junior Chris Madden after last week’s win over Notre Dame. “If we were 5-1, we’d think it’s the most important thing ever but we’re not. We’ve lost matches when we’ve won the doubles point and we’ve won matches when we’ve lost it, so it’s kind of a thing where it’s a great start its great momentum, but you’ve gotta just start over once singles starts.”
North Carolina wasted no time capturing the lead, winning the first set in five out of six singles matches, with Madden being the lone Wolverine with a lead after a set. The Tar Heels’ depth was too much for the Wolverines to handle — five of of North Carolina’s six starters are ranked in the top 125 by the ITA.
Three of North Carolina’s singles wins came in straight sets. No. 67 Evan King lost at second singles, and George Navas was beaten at the number four spot. And with a win over freshman Chris Cha at number six, Andrew Crone gave North Carolina a commanding 3-1 lead.
Needing just one win for the victory, North Carolina seemed slated to run away with the win. But Michigan’s remaining singles players fought hard and all three matches were forced into pivotal third sets.
In the end, it wasn’t enough, as all three Tar Heels prevailed. No. 38 Clay Donato overcame No. 33 Jung at number one in a third-set tiebreaker, while Mike Sroczynski and Chris Madden were outlasted at numbers four and five, respectively.
“They were the better team tonight,” Michigan coach Bruce Berque said. “I feel like we had the skills to win the match, but these three guys did a really good job competing and all of those matches could have turned on a point or two here or there, but we happened to lose them all in the end. I was disappointed with a couple of spots because I don’t feel like we played our best.”
Despite the seemingly lopsided loss, Michigan certainly proved it has the firepower and resilience to compete with the best of the best.
“I don’t think we had any doubts that we can play with the top teams in the country,” Berque said. “I know our ranking is a lot lower, but we don’t think of ourselves as where we are in the rankings. But I guess we have to prove that we can not only play with them but also beat them, which I surely think we’re capable of doing, we just haven’t pulled it through yet.”
With the win, North Carolina improved to 6-2 on the year, and 10-0 all time against Michigan. All seven of Michigan’s dual matches this year have been against teams ranked in the top 55 in the nation. Also, six of its 18 opponents this season are currently in the top 15, and 14 are in the top 50.
“Our growing pains wouldn’t hurt so much if we didn’t have such a tough schedule,” Berque said. “But I told our guys we’re not going to apologize for scheduling teams at the level we think we should be. So it would be pretty easy to have a much better record and for everyone to think we’re wonderful but we made the choice to try to challenge ourselves and we aren’t going to back down from it.”