Coming off a two-game losing streak during its spring break trip to California, the No. 43 Michigan men’s tennis team was in need of a quick turnaround. Last weekend, a game of musical chairs was just the recipe Michigan needed to shake things up. And freshman phenom Matko Maravic proved to be the icing on the cake.
The rising star made his debut at the No. 1 singles position, one of several lineup changes made by coach Bruce Berque last weekend. Michigan capitalized on its double-header Sunday at the Varsity Tennis Center, picking up two wins against Butler and Indiana State and improving its record to 9-4 (2-0 Big Ten).
After beginning the dual-match season at the No. 4 singles position, Maravic quickly moved his way up to the No. 2 slot and stayed there until Sunday.
“We looked at the same stuff that goes into the decisions about the lineup each match,” Berque said. “Basically, (the No. 1 position goes to) who we feel is playing the best tennis at the time and at the highest level. It wasn’t a question that (Rubin) wasn’t doing those things, but Matko has been improving, and we felt he was deserving of that opportunity.”
Maravic proved to be very comfortable playing at the No. 1 position, giving a flawless performance on Sunday.
“I was kind of surprised to get that opportunity, and I was really happy I was able to win in both matches,” Maravic said. “It’s a privilege to play No. 1.”
Against Butler, in the first match of the double-header, Maravic dominated his opponent, 6-0, 6-3. But in the Indiana State match, Maravic had a little trouble putting away Anton Tsymbalov. After taking the first set, Maravic suffered, what he viewed to be, several poor calls against him in the second set. After arguing with the umpire, the freshman was given a point penalty. But he was able to regain his composure, and he won the match in a third-set 10-point tiebreaker, 6-4, 5-7, 1-0(7).
“I was really frustrated, but I knew I had to play a 10-point tie-breaker,” Maravic said. “I needed to focus on every point to win.”
Maravic’s ability to bounce back after the penalty did not go unnoticed by Berque, who said that Maravic has developed his mental game to the point where the coaches are confident that he can compete at the top singles position now.
“Mentally and emotionally, he’s become a very consistent and strong competitor,” Berque said. “He would occasionally have a little loss of control with his emotions, but, over the last 10 matches or so, he’s been a rock, mentally.”
Berque also said that, physically, Maravic has demonstrated noticeable improvement in his net and service games while compiling his current 9-4 record.
But it is the Croatian native’s “no fear” attitude that Berque believes will help Maravic handle the pressure of playing at No. 1.
“The first time Matko heard he was playing at No. 1 was right before the singles (on Sunday),” Berque said. “I had a hunch that it wasn’t necessary to talk to him (before that). He doesn’t care who he’s playing. He just loves playing and competing.”
In addition to moving Maravic up to the No. 1 spot, senior Josef Fischer entered the singles lineup on Sunday against Butler. He had appeared in just three matches before then, but Fischer easily took the match, 6-2, 6-1.
“Josef has been coming along a lot,” Berque said. “Lately, he’s been winning very convincingly, and it’s good to know we have him as an option.”
Even with the lineup changes, Berque said that the team does not place much importance on where each player competes in the lineup.
“I honestly think the goal for Matko is not to stay at the No. 1 position,” Berque said. “It’s to get better and help the team win. I try to de-emphasize the lineup with the team, … We have more important things to worry about.”
Maravic and the Wolverines will look to continue its two-game win streak against Louisiana State in Baton Rouge on Sunday. The noon match will be the first of five consecutive matches on the road for Michigan.