Freshman Julia Fliegner set the tone in Michigan's victory over Princeton. José Brenes/Daily. Buy this photo.

In the Michigan women’s tennis team’s matchup against Princeton on Sunday, one word could describe the performance of freshman Julia Fliegner: fearless.

Members of the Wolverines and Tigers gathered around one court, watching the back and forth battle between the remaining two duos in doubles play. Both teams cheered emphatically for their teammates in hopes of taking a one-point advantage into singles play.

“It’s nice to go into singles with a point already on the team score,” Fliegner said.

As tenacious and relentless as sophomore Kari Miller and Fliegner were in their first outing together — a 7-5 victory — it was merely a glimpse of the unrelenting intensity that Fliegner displayed throughout Sunday’s matchup, a 7-0 Michigan victory.

“It feels really good,” Fliegner said. “I committed (to Michigan) a long time ago and I’ve just wanted to be here and play for this team and help them out, so it feels really good. It’s really rewarding.”

Fliegner’s intense desire to win set the tone for her teammates entering singles play, and it did not falter in her match against Princeton’s Grace Joyce.

In order to excel as a tennis player, mental capabilities carry as much importance as physical skill. Fliegner embodied how mental toughness separates good and great players.

In the first set, Fliegner flashed greatness.

As they dueled back and forth, Fliegner challenged Joyce to match her intensity. Six of the 12 first-set games were deuces, four of which the Wolverines won via Fliegner’s straightforward approach.

“(I) just pick a spot and believe that I can hit it there,” Fliegner said. “The points were so close and I just knew that I needed to picture it in my head and just go for it.”

Whether Fliegner carried a 40-0 advantage or found herself in a 40-15 deficit, she appeared unperturbed. While many competitors struggled to stay within striking distance when faced with a strong challenger, Michigan’s fierce talent appeared to not only survive, but thrive in uphill battles. 

With her ability to convert in tight games, Fliegner secured a 7-5 first set win.

In tennis, a sport that elicits strong emotions and agonizes players with their own mind, the ability to see hard work pay off carries immense power. On Sunday, Fliegner proved to have greater mental strength than her Tigers opponent.

The second set began in similar fashion to the first with Michigan emerging victorious from a deuce. After falling in the next two games, Fliegner responded with three consecutive triumphs — the third being from another deuce.

Whether Fliegner found small-scale success by emerging victorious from a hard-fought rally, or large-scale gains by securing a gritty set win, the crowd was met with the same vocal burst of excitement.

“I know if she wins the point or not every time,” Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein said. “If it’s a deuce point and I hear Julia I know that we just won the game.” 

In a fast-paced sport like tennis where one look of defeat can spur your opponent to victory, Fliegner proved to be impenetrable. As she continued to see her mental strength convert to success, the disparity between her and her opponent began to grow. 

Winning four of the final five games made the difference in the match, pushing Fliegner past her Princeton opposition and to her 20th singles match victory of the season.

Although Michigan came out victorious in each battle it entered on Sunday, few of the Wolverines’ players exerted the level of energy and determination that Fliegner embodies in her performance — a quality her teammates can look to replicate.

“It’s something we talk about, the energy,” Bernstein said. “And for a freshman to come in like that, I mean I can hear her on the other side.”

Talent can only take a player so far. Sunday, Fliegner exhibited the energy it takes to build on that talent.