When the No. 1 doubles team for the Michigan men’s tennis team, consisting of junior Evan King and sophomore Shaun Bernstein, went down 5-1 on Saturday against Purdue, the weekend was already off to a bad start. But due to the play of the No. 3 doubles team and a comeback from King and Bernstein, the Wolverines were able to turn their poor start into two decisive wins.
“(The weekend) was great, ” said coach Bruce Berque. “Purdue and Indiana are both talented teams. Indiana, we lost on the road to last year, 4-3, so that’s always more satisfying.”
On Saturday, the Wolverines defeated Purdue (1-2 Big Ten, 7-8 overall), 5-2, then followed that up with another 5-2 victory on Sunday against Indiana (2-3, 14-7). Both of these victories included winning the doubles point, which allowed Michigan (4-1, 11-5) to take a lead into the singles matches.
The decisive victory in the doubles match on Saturday came from the No. 3 team of freshmen Alex Petrone and Michael Zhu. After getting out to a 2-1 lead, the third pairing never looked back, cruising to an 8-5 victory.
“I think the doubles point was big,” Berque said. “We would have been confident that we would have had a great chance to come back, but we took an educated gamble to take Shaun out of the lineup. And having won the doubles, we were a little more confident. It gave us a big lift, and I’m sure Purdue thinks it was a point they felt they could have and should have won, but we stepped it up at the end.”
Petrone and Zhu came through again on Sunday, but it was a bit more difficult. After going up 3-1, they lost four straight games, putting them in a hole and possibly sending Michigan to start singles with a 1-0 deficit. But Petrone and Zhu rallied back, taking a one-game lead.
The Indiana No. 3 doubles team went up 40-0 when the match was tied at 7-7, and the Hoosier pair was on the verge of taking all the momentum back when Zhu and Petrone rallied. The duo ended up winning the game and used the momentum to finish off seniors Stephen Vogl and Will Kendall. That sealed the doubles point for two straight matches.
“I think we fell off a little bit (earlier this season), but we are getting back on it because me and Mike, we jell pretty well as a team, and I think we will get the momentum going again,” Petrone said.
Both matches showed the maturation of Zhu and Petrone. Despite their youth, they both have had to play important roles this season on a team without any seniors. On Saturday, they were thrust into playing a bigger role. With Bernstein unable to play singles because of a strained shoulder, Petrone moved up from his usual No. 3 slot to play in the second spot. The change didn’t affect him, as he won, 6-2, 7-5.
“No different than any other match,” Petrone said. “The guy was pretty good, pretty solid from the baseline, but I came out firing and I did a good job of keeping my energy up. I got a little tight serving for it and was up 5-4 in the second, but (I) regrouped and got the job done.”
Zhu was also forced to play up, moving from the No. 4 spot to the No. 3 spot. Just like Petrone, Zhu didn’t miss a beat, winning, 7-5, 6-3.
“I think (Zhu’s) really learning everything that’s involved in competing at a high level in college tennis, even when he’s not hitting the ball at his best,” Berque said. “I think that’s his biggest thing that he needs to learn, but he is definitely learning it. He was the leader in doubles on that court, like he has been so many times.”
With Bernstein back in the lineup on Sunday, both freshmen were able to secure a victory. Zhu won, 6-2, 4-6 (10-8), and Petrone, 6-2, 6-0.
With only conference matchups remaining, both Petrone and Zhu will need to keep playing with the same vigor, especially next weekend, with the team traveling to powerhouses Illinois and Northwestern. Berque has confidence the pair will keep it up.
“They are competing really well,” Berque said. “They figured out what they’re good at and what they’re not as good at.”