In the first tennis match to ever be broadcasted on the Big Ten Network, the No. 34 Wisconsin men’s team could not secure a victory against No. 11 Illinois, losing 4-3.
In its conference season opener, Wisconsin (10-5, 0-1) seemed to be on its way to an impressive win after claiming the doubles point and winning four first sets in singles.
From there, however, the Badgers lost momentum and allowed the Illini to sneak right past them.
Head coach Greg Van Emburgh expressed extreme displeasure with how his team finished the game after positioning themselves so favorably to win.
“I’m just really disappointed,” he said. “We didn’t close out matches — just an unfortunate day. Hats off to [the Illini], they had a good match and they found ways to dig a little deeper today in the third sets and get the wins.”
After again making it a point to cultivate the doubles teams in practice all week, Van Emburgh was impressed with his team’s performance in that regard.
Junior Marek Michalicka and senior Moritz Baumann reunited to take on No. 68 Marek Czerwinski and Stephen Hoh in doubles. The Badger duo, ranked No. 11, marched through the game of fastballs and precise placement to win 8-4.
On the neighborly court, seniors Luke Rassow-Kantor and Michael Dierberger traded blow after blow with Illinois’ Abe Souza and Connor Roth. In a game of smart, advantageous play, neither pair separated themselves by more than one point from their opponent. Down 7-6 against the Illini, Rassow-Kantor and Dierberger were able to rally by winning two consecutive sets to clinch the doubles point.
“I thought they (Rassow-Kantor, Dierberger) played great in doubles,” Van Emburgh said. “Illinois is good in their doubles and they actually favor that point. We came out and played really well and we won that point today — I thought we did a great job in doubles.”
Momentum didn’t fade during the short break between singles and doubles as four Badgers won their opening sets. Ranked No. 11 for a reason, however, Illinois was able to force an extra set in three of those matches. One of the quicker singles matches saw Michalicka stretch his singles winning streak to 11 consecutive.
Michalicka showed tremendous hustle as he turned away Illinois’ top ranked player, No. 36 Dennis Nevolo in two sets, 6-2, 7-5.
“I think that was probably the best match I have played all season,” Michalicka said. “I couldn’t even believe how I played.”
Meanwhile, freshman Billy Bertha and Dierberger dropped their three-set matches while Rassow-Kantor was ousted in two.
With Illinois in need of one more singles victory to secure the win, the weight of the match fell on the shoulders of Baumann and sophomore Patrick Pohlmann at the No. 2 and 3 positions.
Baumann struggled to find rhythm against Illinois’ Marek Czerwinski. After Baumann prevailed in the first set, the two hardly allowed the other to score two times in a row until Czerwinski topped out and won the tiebreaker to force a third set. Baumann never recovered, losing the third 6-3.
With the match already decided, Pohlmann remained intent on upsetting No. 77 Abe Souza.
Driven to a third set tiebreaker, Pohlmann repeatedly made his emotions audible as spectators and teammates continued to cheer him on. Feeding off the noise, Pohlmann was able to outlast a small comeback from Souza and close up the win.
“I was up two match points, I was kind of disappointed that I didn’t really close it,” he said. “But then at the end I found a way to tie six-all and then in the tiebreaker, it’s almost like a lottery, and in the end I was the more lucky guy.”
Pohlmann gave credit for his win to the fact that he put his confidence on display for his opponent. Though he stated he was unable to watch the other matches, he suggested that perhaps a lack of exhibiting confidence may have been a factor in the team’s losing three out of four three-set matches.
When asked if the loss would harm team confidence in later matches, Pohlmann was quick to reject the idea.
“No, definitely not,” he said. “They’re a top-15 team, so we knew that it was going to be a tough match.”
In the meantime, though, the team understands there still remains more to be built on in order to beat highly ranked teams like Illinois.
“We need to get back to work,” Van Emburgh said. “We’ve got to, obviously, learn from this match and then put this match aside. We need to work, work it hard and keep believing in our team. We have a great team, and Illinois is a great team and they found ways to win today. That’s really the difference, so slight.”