Entering Sunday’s match against Princeton, the Michigan women’s tennis team had failed to win the doubles point in its past four matches — even in its wins against No. 12 Georgia Tech and No. 4 California.
But after a hard-fought tiebreaker, the drought was over. With their early victories, the 18th-ranked Wolverines (5-2 overall) blanked Princeton (3-7), 7-0, for their third shutout of the season.
It might’ve been a sweep, but it didn’t come cleanly.
Michigan’s No. 2 doubles quickly fell after failing to capitalize on deuces. Still, sophomore Jaedan Brown and junior Andrea Cerdan avenged their teammates to ferociously take the No. 1 match.
With the score even, all the attention fell to the final court, where sophomore Kari Miller and freshman Julia Fliegner had just dropped two straight games to tie the match at five.
The Wolverines stood their ground and broke the Tigers’ serve. In the final game, Miller’s presence at the net grew oppressive as she shut down any ball within her reach. Suddenly at match point, Fliegner served one of her many pinpoint dimes, which promptly found itself returned harmlessly into the net.
Although a comeback following a first point loss is possible, winning it eases the task of securing a match victory.
“That was me and Kari’s first win together, so it’s reassuring that all the hard work we have been doing is working,” Fliegner said. “It’s nice to go into singles with a point already on the team score.”
In singles, Michigan raced out of the gates and swept the first games across the board. All three of Miller, Brown and junior Nicole Hammond shocked Princeton with four straight games before the Tigers could even react.
However, the Wolverines began to falter late, struggling to close games.
Deuce after deuce, Princeton clawed its way back into the match. Both Brown and Hammond dropped three straight games before winning their sets.
Still, both Brown and Cerdan regained composure and asserted their dominance, winning by the same score of 6-2.
“When you get two quick ones and you get up three to zero, it takes pressure off the other kids that are out there,” Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein said.
On the other hand, Fliegner found herself fighting to catch back up on early deficits in No. 5 singles. She often lost the first couple points, only to aggressively fight back and convert on deuces.
Her efforts kept her in the first set, where she overcame another deuce to win the tiebreaker, 7-5. Fliegner’s celebration echoed throughout the stadium, loud enough for Bernstein to hear from the other side.
With three points on the board, the Wolverines only needed one more to win the match, and Fliegner was the prime candidate with four wins already in hand.
After giving up some ground, she dialed in and unleashed another serve. Fliegner celebrated as the ball sailed past her into the wall, clinching the match for her 20th singles win of the year.
However, the remaining players — Hammond, Miller and sophomore Gala Mesochoritou — struggled to finish. Mesochoritou lost her first set but managed to survive the next two, leaving Miller and Hammond playing side-by-side.
Despite a strong comeback effort, Miller eventually lost the set. Glimpses of her usual stellar placement showed up, but she missed a few times too many. Although frustrated, Miller fought the mental battle and powered through, winning the match.
Hammond found herself alone in a final tiebreaker. All eyes on the No. 3 court, tied at six points each, Hammond narrowly won the last point to wrap up the afternoon.
Despite the lopsided final score, Michigan had to battle in close games throughout the affair.
“We need to do a better job at being aggressive and taking control, and winning sets six to three instead of seven to five,” Bernstein said. “You have to want the ball at the end, and I feel like we’re kind of hoping they’re going to give it to us.”
This match luckily came early in the season, giving the team ample time to digest it and prepare for the future.
“We got pushed,” Bernstein said. “And it’s exactly what we needed.”