EAST LANSING Usually facing a seeded player in the first two rounds of a tournament more than once is a bad omen.
Unless your name is Matt Lockin.
For the freshman, beating top-ranked players in the early rounds has become as consistent as his serve return.
After beating the No. 5 seed at the ITA Midwest Regional two weeks ago, Lockin returned to competition Saturday at the Big Ten Singles Championships with a win over No. 4 Jackie Jenkins (6-2, 7-5).
“Lockin”s going to be a good player for us,” Michigan men”s tennis coach Mark Mees said. “He”s a good competitor, he works hard and he”s got a lot of talent so we expect some good things out of him.”
Though the upset on Saturday coupled with his second-round victory over Purdue”s Laith Al-Agba (6-4, 6-4) were impressive, they were nothing in comparison to his two matches yesterday, including a thrilling quarterfinal loss.
In his quarterfinal match against Manuel Lievano from Minnesota, Lockin dropped a tough first set 3-6 before taking the next two 6-3, 6-1. Early in the second set, a rally of shots led to what would be a change in momentum.
Lievano hit a winner into the net that dribbled over the tape to make a Lockin return impossible. Instead of getting down as a result of the point, Lockin got fired up with his opponent”s loud celebration over the cheaply won point.
Lockin then began a comeback that Lievano could only sit back and watch.
“There was a turning point in the second set where I got in (Lievano”s) head a little bit,” Lockin said. “Also, he didn”t really bring it all together in the third. He started spraying balls and wasn”t into the match like I was.
“I turned it up and he shut down mentally.”
That mental toughness shown against Lievano was what drew Mees into making Lockin a Wolverine.
“The first time I ever saw (Lockin) play was in South Carolina,” Mees said. “It was hotter than sin down there and he”s out there grinding away in a three hour match when his team had already won the meet.
“At that point, I knew he was a pretty good competitor and that he”s not going to be phased by losing a first set. Someone is going to have to put in a full match to beat him.”
In Lockin”s semifinal match, Illinois” Jamal Parker gave him all he could handle in what would be one of the closest matches of the tournament.
The first set appeared to belong to Parker early on as he, with his overpowering first serve, had a 5-2 lead after the first seven games. As Parker”s serve began to falter, Lockin took advantage with key returns to break Parker”s serve to make the match 5-4.
The two competitors each held serve to reach a tiebreaker at 6-6.
But Parker”s serve proved to be too much to handle for the freshman as the first three points were won by Parker leading to his 7-2 win the first set.
The second set was just as close with both not giving an inch on their serve. Lockin eventually broke serve and took the second set 7-5 to earn third set which was as dramatic as the first two.
Neither lost a serve in the third set leading up to the second tie-breaker of the night. Lockin this time broke one of Parker”s serves in the tie-break to give himself a 3-2 lead. Parker then took the final four points, including the final point reminiscent of the one Lievano had hit earlier in the day.
Lockin had a chance early on in the set to get a break to eventually win the match, but couldn”t convert the opportunity.
“There was a chance in the beginning of the third set when I was up 40-15 with two points to break him which probably would have been the match and the set,” Lockin said. “It came down to me not coming in enough. I didn”t serve and volley like (Parker) did (in those two break points). Just the way it happened in the tiebreaker.”
Though he lost, Lockin ended his fall season with a 6-2 record in his final eight matches. Even as just a freshman proved he is going to be ready to be one of Michigan”s top singles players in the spring after he takes care of a few mechanics in his net game.
“I don”t come in enough off my first serve,” said Lockin. “I try to take too many short balls and hit groundstrokes with them. I need to focus on serving and volleying more.
“But I feel that with the field we have now I have a very good chance of doing well” next time in Big Ten tournament play.