Fall tennis is a time for players to get back into their groove and tweak their game before the real season starts. Because of that, the Michigan women’s tennis team is already in mid-season form.
While most of the team traveled to the Miami Invitational, two players — No. 18 senior Kate Fahey and No. 33 junior transfer Giulia Pairone — were invited to the prestigious Oracle ITA Masters in California.
“I think they try to take the best player from each conference and then send them out to Malibu and then they kind of fill the rest of the spots with at-large bids,” said Michigan associate head coach Teryn Ashley-Fitch. “There’s a lot of good competition out there. I would say it’s one of the biggest events of the fall.”
And it didn’t take long for Fahey to prove why she was there.
Fahey made an impressive run to the semifinals before ultimately falling in three sets to Pepperdine’s No. 41 Evgeniya Levashova, 6-2, 1-6, 6-2. But it wasn’t an easy path to get there — Fahey played four singles matches in three days, including a three-set thriller in the quarterfinals where Fahey fought off a match point to win the third-set tiebreaker for the match.
The semifinals became a familiar spot for Fahey as she and her partner Stefan Milicevic of Minnesota made it to the semifinal round in the mixed doubles draw. By random draw, the pair was thrown together and proved to be a dynamic duo. They went 18-9 over the first three matches before dropping the semifinal match, 8-4.
Fahey has proved herself as Michigan’s top performer, but due to some newfound confidence, she is making a bigger name for herself on the national stage.
“She’s shown so much progress on the court,” Ashley-Fitch said. “And mentally, for sure, has made some great improvements and I think it’s helped her tennis. I think she’s finally realizing that to get the best out of her, she’s got to be in a good frame of mind. I think for me that was the biggest takeaway from the weekend for her.”
While Fahey’s fellow senior Brienne Minor was across the country in Miami, both women are clearly leading the team by example. At this point last year, Minor was still recovering from a knee surgery that sidelined her for all of the fall season. But the difference of a year can be important as Minor took all three matches over the weekend without even dropping a set.
And while Minor won her semifinal match, finals matches were not held in the singles draw. But two victories over top-100 ranked opponents and a clean sheet on the weekend is enough for Minor.
“She has a great weekend,” said Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein. “I think for her, all three matches (she) played really, really well and kept her level up. So, if we can get them from her as we move into the fall and season, you know to have her back at that level would be great.
“So really excited for her and she showed a lot of heart this weekend. Competed hard against three great kids, so definitely a good weekend for her.”
While Fahey and Minor may have been able to use their experience to power them through the weekend, the Wolverines also feature many fresh faces in the lineup who still made an impact as well.
Pairone, a transfer student from Arkansas, won her first-round match before falling in three sets. She battled to the end, fighting off three match points before succumbing to Winthrop’s No. 26 Lauren Proctor. Sophomore Bella Lorenzini and freshman Anca Craciun won all three doubles matches in the B draw to win the title.
And while Michigan had a successful weekend, Bernstein viewed this opportunity as more than a chance to play tennis. While fall tennis is often very individual, due to the lack of team scoring, Bernstein used the occasion to let her team bond and get used to each other. While the veteran players impressed on the court, Bernstein was much more impressed with them off the court.
“You know they’re cheering for each other and supporting each other,” Bernstein said. “It felt like a team event even though it wasn’t. And really the new kids feeling comfortable — you know, they’re away from home and have only been here a couple weeks for far, so they really got to know the older kids on our team, so it was a fun weekend.”