After a surprising run at the ITA Regionals in East Lansing last month, sophomore Vlad Stefan was the Michigan men’s tennis team’s lone representative at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Championships in Flushing, N.Y this weekend.
“It’s a great feeling to get to a tournament that has some of the best players in the country,” Stefan said.
Stefan — a native of Bucharest, Romania and a transfer from the University of Maryland — was one of 32 players competing in the championships. Stefan had a strong start to the tournament, as he won a key three-set match over Enej Bonin of the University of Denver, 7-5, 3-6, 6-0. The victory kept Stefan out of the consolation bracket and propelled him into the round of 16.
“I had a really good start,” Stefan said. “In the third set I finally played the way I should have played. I didn’t give (Bonin) many chances. In the first few sets I made a lot of errors, but in the third set I calmed down and played much better.”
Stefan’s first-round victory was short lived, however, as his tournament run ended against Virginia’s Jarmere Jenkins, the No. 2 player in the country. Despite a good effort, Stefan lost in straight sets, 3-6, 3-6.
“I didn’t play the way I should.” Stefan said of his match against Jenkins. “My forehand is my biggest weapon and in that match it was the cause for most of my errors.”
Despite his struggles against Jenkins, Stefan’s fall was primarily seen as a significant step in his development.
“He’s very coachable,” said Michigan coach Bruce Berque. “I knew he was a good player when he committed to come here, but he really didn’t show up on campus playing anywhere near what he was capable of. He was a little rusty and had a few injuries he was dealing with, so because of that, his game wasn’t really where it needed to be.”
Despite the setbacks, Stefan who is the 53rd-ranked player in the country, has come a long way.
“I’ve been impressed by his will to work on his weaknesses,” Berque said. “The way he works in practice allowed him to progress from where he started to how he is finishing the year.”
The Wolverines won’t take the court again until Jan. 6 at the Key Biscayne Individuals, but Michigan already knows what Berque expects of them.
“What we pride ourselves on is not being the best skill team that we’ve had before, but the most competitive team we’ve had before.” Berque said. “We have to be the most competitive and toughest team.”