Michigan men’s tennis coach Bruce Berque couldn’t recall a time in all of his years of coaching when a college tennis team lost the first set in all six singles matches and won the match.
Well, there really is a first time for everything.
On Sunday afternoon at the Varsity Tennis Center, the 26th-ranked Wolverines (5-0 Big Ten, 9-7 overall) did just that, outlasting No. 30 Wisconsin, 4-3, in a fiercely contested match.
Michigan got off to a solid start, taking the doubles point for the 13th time in 16 matches with wins by the No. 33 tandem of seniors George Navas and Mike Sroczynski at the No. 2 spot, and freshman Chris Cha and junior Chris Madden at No. 3.
After a first-set massacre by the Badgers, the match seemed hopeless for the Wolverines. But then something clicked, and an unprecedented comeback began.
“I don’t know if this was necessarily a conscious choice or not,” Berque said. “But when you look up at the scoreboard and it looks as bleak as it did, competitors have a choice to give in emotionally and cave in, or step it up a notch. And I think that was the difference on just about every court. Our guys elevated their games, competed a little harder, played a little more aggressively and played like a team.”
Other than freshman Evan King — who was defeated in straight sets at second singles — all of Michigan’s players won their second sets.
That left the match knotted at 1-1 with five courts still playing, all in decisive third sets.
Despite saving three match points to take the second set, Sroczynski fell to Wisconsin’s Patrick Pohlmann, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-2. And in another hard-fought battle, Cha was outlasted at No. 6.
But the Wolverines fought back, starting with a huge win from Navas.
The match then came down to junior Jason Jung at No. 1 singles and Madden at No. 4.
Jung — the 41st-ranked singles player in the nation — was pitted against No. 21 junior Marek Michalicka of the Badgers, who came into the match with an unblemished 14-0 dual-match record.
After dropping the first set, Jung took control, taking the second, and going up a break at 4-2 in the third set. But Michalicka reached deep into his bag of tricks to try and stall Jung’s momentum.
Michalickha called for an injury timeout, attempted to take an illegal bathroom break, refused to play for 10 minutes due to a rule dispute, and then tried for an illegal second injury timeout, which caused a point penalty and finally ended his strange antics.
Despite all of the commotion, Jung somehow managed to stay focused, winning the match, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.
“I played him freshman year and he did the same stuff, so I kind of know what he is about.” Jung said. “It’s hard to play a guy like that when he’s doing all of that stuff, but I’ve had experience with it before, which definitely helped me get through the match.”
After Jung’s match, Madden broke serve in the final game of his third set to clinch the Wolverines’ victory, pulling through against Wisconsin freshman Billy Bertha. It was the fourth time that Madden has clinched the match for Michigan this year.
With the victory, Michigan stayed undefeated in conference play, and continues to sit atop the Big Ten standings.
But the win against Wisconsin wasn’t the only action for Michigan this weekend. In another tough conference match, the Wolverines defeated No. 48 Northwestern 5-2 on Saturday afternoon. It was Michigan’s ninth-straight triumph over the Wildcats.
This weekend’s sweep concluded a six-match homestand for the Wolverines, who will be on the road for four of their five remaining matches.
“I think these wins are really going to help us,” Jung said. “I think it doesn’t matter if we’re home or away now that we are 5-0 and have a lot of confidence behind us. I think that we’re playing well and hopefully can get that Big Ten title.”