As junior Mira Ruder-Hook watched her opponent’s ball land out, it was almost anticlimactic. She had battled through the match composed of highs and lows, which forced her to continuously make comebacks, and the final point seemed too easy.
As the ball landed out, Ruder-Hook’s teammates cheered not only for her, but also in celebration of their successful weekend. The Michigan women’s tennis team competed in the Michigan Invitational against Arizona State, DePaul and Tennessee, and though there was no team scoring, it was a perfect warm-up for the impending spring season.
Ruder-Hook got off to a rough start, falling into a 0-4 hole. But once she switched to more offensive play, she won five straight games to gain the lead. Tennessee’s Gabby Schuck made her fight for it, though, and tied it at five games apiece. But it was Ruder-Hook who took the first set after she drove a forehand deep into the corner of the court.
Schuck’s aggressive style of play appeared to be too much for Ruder-Hook, who was down 4-1 in the second set. But after the line judge overturned one of Schuck’s calls, Ruder-Hook argued that it was Schuck’s third time being overturned. If it had been, Ruder-Hook would be awarded a game. But after a dispute between Ruder-Hook, the umpire and the Volunteers’ coach, Ruder-Hook wasn’t awarded the game.
That game might have made a big difference in the match’s outcome, because while Ruder-Hook battled back to tie the game at five, Schuck ended up taking the set, 7-5.
Both players were evenly matched in the third set, but it was Ruder-Hook’s mental toughness that secured her the match, a point of emphasis for the junior.
“I think mental toughness is something you always have to work on,” Ruder-Hook said. “For me, I just try to present myself like I’m really confident and so in the moment at least it looks that way. And then it transitions to me and I start to feel more confident. I just told myself, ‘one point at a time.’ ”
Sophomore Kate Fahey and junior Alex Najarian continued their momentum from the fall season. The pair won the doubles title, winning every match of the weekend. The fourth-ranked duo’s most notable win came on Monday against the team of Savannah Slaysman and Kelley Anderson – the top pair for the Sun Devils. Fahey closed out the match, 6-3, with an ace up the middle.
Former partners, sophomore Brienne Minor and Ruder-Hook both played with a freshman this weekend, and though there are signs of a bright future ahead, there is surely room for improvement.
“I think there are a lot of things we need to work on, especially the doubles,” said Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein. “The goal is to go match by match and really peak in May.”
While this invitational was a good opportunity to get the team together again and to play real matches, it only makes the women even more excited for their real season to start.
“What’s so unique about college tennis and what makes it so much more fun is that you get to play with your team, so when the season starts we’re all so eager,” Ruder-Hook said. “I definitely prefer the (spring) season.”