As a Wolverine finishes off his opponent, his teammates stand on a raised platform jutted out from the stands to cheer him through his final points.
Sunday — senior night for the men’s tennis team — sophomore phenom Evan King was the first to win his match and hurried to the balcony overlooking the opposite courts to cheer on teammate and mentor Jason Jung, playing his final home match. As other Wolverines chanted “Finish him,” King stood proudly, among his teammates, wearing an old Jung jersey, on which he taped Adidas over the Nike symbol to keep the school’s new sponsor happy.
“I’m rocking the Jay Jung Adidas jersey,” King said. “He honestly was my mentor most of the last year. I came in, played No. 2 for most the season. He told me a lot of things of what to do, how to compete, what college tennis is all about, and he’s doing the same thing with the freshmen this year.
“I mean he’s a team captain this year for a reason. The guy’s a role model and one of the reasons I ended up coming to Michigan. iIt’s just a good senior class and they will definitely be missed.”
The Wolverines found themselves in an all too familiar position this weekend in their 2-5 loss to Illinois and 5-2 victory over Iowa. Despite drastic changes to the doubles lineup that split up the Wolverines’ only ranked pair — Jung and King — Michigan lost two of three matches in both weekend doubles, and once again forced themselves into a 1-0 hole.
“It’s definitely a disadvantage, for obvious reasons,” Michigan coach Bruce Berque said. “For mathematical reasons, psychologically it is too. But I think with us we’re so used to it, unfortunately, that the good news is that they don’t panic when we lose the doubles point, because they’ve been there so many times before. But psychologically, especially when you are playing a really good team, I feel like it knocks a little wind out of your sails.”
After dropping to 6-15 in doubles points this season, the 27th-ranked Wolverines (5-4 Big Ten, 12-9 overall) had a shot to upset the 17th-ranked Fighting Illini. Sparked by an early thrashing from No. 24 King, who won in straight sets against 11th-ranked Dennis Nevolo, the Wolverines took four of six first sets.
“We’ve played each other tons of times,” King said. “I came in, knew my game plan. I’ve been playing confident throughout the season, so I knew if I could focus, keep my emotions in check, that I’d be successful.”
King once again proved that he has overcome the focus issues he suffered from last year, closing out the victory on Saturday and keeping his cool on Sunday despite Hawkeye Marc Bruche’s best attempt to send an overhand spike down his throat.
“The most important thing that he’s doing is his maturity during the week and the way he approaches practice,” Berque said. “The way he’s taking ownership of his own improvement, the way he’s more focused in practice, more purposeful in practice. Because of that, not only is his game and his skills getting better, but I think his mind is better trained to stay focused.”
Jung followed King with a win and the Wolverines jumped ahead 2-1. But the bottom of the lineup could not close out the victory, despite the first-set victories, and Michigan fell to Illinois. The loss dropped the Wolverines to a dreadful 2-18 against the Illini since 1997.
Once again on Sunday the Wolverines dropped the opening point to Iowa. The Wolverines though, bounced back against the Hawkeyes. Jung and fellow senior Chris Madden finished out their home careers with victories. Madden, who King deemed “Mr. Clutch,” was as calm and collective as ever after his emotional win.
“I mean it’s nice,” Madden said. “Obviously it’s been a rough season for me, coming back late. I actually haven’t won a match at home yet, so it’s nice that at least I won my last one.
“To be honest, I really don’t think it is any different than what I used to play. I’ve always been really competitive and always gone after it no matter what. So this little extra thing isn’t necessarily like putting a chip on my shoulder. But I’m just going do what I’ve always done, just go out there and compete like hell and try and end well.”