The last time Brooke Bolender played the decisive match for the Michigan women’s tennis team in a big-time tournament, she ended up walking off the court with slumped shoulders, dejected, watching Northwestern celebrate its 2011 Big Ten Tournament title.
But on Sunday, against No. 35 Yale in the ITA Kick-Off regional championships, the sophomore walked off the court with a much different expression on her face.
With strong groundstrokes and a powerful service game, Bolender defeated Blair Seideman 6-3, 7-6 (2) to give Michigan a 4-3 victory over the Bulldogs, and punched her team’s ticket to the ITA National Team Indoor Championship.
“It’s really exciting,” Bolender said. “I really wanted it for the team. We really wanted to go to the (Indoor Championships) — it was one of our goals for the year. I was in this situation last year, and I didn’t win, so it was exciting to actually win for the team this time.”
After nationally ranked No. 36 freshman Emina Bektas defeated Elizabeth Epstein 7-5, 7-5 in the first singles slot to tie the score at three, both the Wolverines and Bulldogs gathered on the neighboring court to watch the end of the No. 2 singles match.
After winning the first set 6-3 and taking an early lead in the second set, nationally ranked No. 46 Bolender appeared to be on her way toward an easy straight-set victory. But Seideman rallied to take a 5-4 lead, putting the pressure on Bolender. Bolender answered, and the players traded the subsequent service games to set up a second-set tiebreaker.
“I wanted to make her hit a lot of balls (in the tiebreaker),” Bolender said. “I also wanted to step in and control the points, opposed to running around the court.”
Bolender did just that. With her aggressive play, she took control of the tiebreaker from the beginning. When Seideman sent a backhand into the net down 6-2, the Wolverines broke into a massive celebration.
“It was just a great effort, especially after losing that doubles point in that dramatic fashion,” said Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein. “We had a couple slow starts, but the girls battled back — all of them on every court — and we’re fortunate to get through because Yale is a very good team.”
Early on in the doubles matches, it appeared as if the Wolverines would control the match-up against the Bulldogs.
The duo of freshman Emina Bektas and Bolender were the first players off the court. The nationally ranked No. 24 doubles team defeated No. 16 Vicky Brook and Hanna Yu, 8-2.
The Wolverines also held early leads in the No. 2 and No. 3 doubles slots. The Bulldogs fought back, though. Seideman and Steph Kent erased 3-0 and 8-7 deficits to defeat freshmen Sarah Lee and Kristen Dodge, 9-8.
But with Bektas’s and Bolender’s wins, Michigan overcame a 3-2 deficit to win their second consecutive ITA Kick-Off Tournament.
Sunday’s matchup was a little more contested than the Wolverines’ previous match. Michigan advanced to the finals with a 5-2 victory over No. 40 Maryland on Saturday.
The Wolverines asserted their dominance early, winning all three doubles matches in impressive fashion.
In singles, Bektas led the way. She defeated nationally ranked No. 28 Cristina Stancu 6-0, 6-2 to help Michigan win three of its first four matches.
With their win against Yale, the Wolverines advanced to the ITA National Team Indoor Championships, which start on Feb. 10.
“(This win) shows where our program is and it will give us three matches — hopefully four matches — against quality teams,” Bernstein said. “So we’ll get some great opportunities there and we’ll enjoy it.”