The setup could not have been any better for a storybook upset. Instead, the Wisconsin men’s tennis team endured a 4-3 loss at the hands of Ohio State.
In the regular season finale for Wisconsin, Ohio State entered the match ranked No. 4 in the country, was undefeated in the Big Ten, had suffered only one loss in 30 games and had a 17-match winning streak against the Badgers.
It all came down to the final match between Wisconsin senior Moritz Baumann and Justin Kronauge of Ohio State.
It also happened to be Senior Day.
But the stars did not align. Despite putting on some of their best performances all season, the Badgers could not prevent the Buckeyes from escaping with the win.
“The guys played well throughout the lineup, singles and doubles,” head coach Greg Van Emburgh said. “It’s just a little unfortunate that we came up on the short end of the stick. You hope fairy tales work out sometimes, but it was not to be today.”
In front of a larger and more boisterous crowd than usual, Wisconsin (18-7, 7-3) gave Ohio State one of its toughest battles of the season.
In doubles play, all three Wisconsin duos fell behind early, but were eventually able to bounce back. After putting up a good fight, Chris Freeman and Luke Rassow-Kantor succumbed to OSU’s Kronauge and Balazs Novak, losing by four game points. Across the way, Michael Dierberger and Patrick Pohlmann slipped to a 6-2 deficit before mounting an energetic comeback, scoring six consecutive game points en route to sealing up a doubles point for Wisconsin.
“We went down kind of early,” Pohlmann said. “Mike and I, we gained some confidence over the last two weeks and we knew we were good so we just hung in there and tried to fight and we found ways at the end.”
Full attention then turned to two pairs of doubles giants clashing. UW’s No. 16-ranked Baumann and Marek Michalicka traded blow-for-blow with OSU’s No. 10-ranked Chase Buchanan and Dino Marcan. In a match where the pace was so fast players had to rely on instinct alone, neither team could establish anything close to dominance. Never was a team able to string back-to-back game points until the Wisconsin duo prevailed in the very end, winning 9-8.
The scales were tipped in UW’s favor heading into singles, but soon after a brief ceremony that commemorated the team’s seniors, the Badgers quickly found themselves leaning precariously over the edge.
Ohio State claimed victories in the first three matches of singles play with Billy Bertha, Freeman and Michalicka suffering quick defeats.
Michalicka endured a frustrating match with Buchanan. Michalicka tried a number of things to catch his opponent off guard but Buchanan stayed rigid and shut out the Badger in the second set for the win.
The weight of the scales reversed again, though, when Rassow-Kantor and Pohlmann thrillingly upstaged their competition in two sets each.
“It was really close,” Rassow-Kantor said. “We both have a similar style and quick serves. I just tried to stay aggressive and really take it to him, and it really paid off in the end.”
The deciding match then fell on Baumann and Kronauge at the No. 2 singles position. Backed with the support of a booming audience behind him, Baumann continued his stellar play from doubles and outlasted Kronauge in the first set, winning the tiebreaker. His performance then began to dip in the second set as Kronauge took over and never looked back, winning the following two sets 6-3.
According to Van Emburgh, Baumann had been sick for “about four or five days” and had missed a significant amount of practice prior to their weekend matchups against Penn State and Ohio State.
But Van Emburgh rejected the idea that the Germany-native simply ran out of energy in the final two sets of his match.
“‘Wearing out’ wouldn’t be the word I would use,” he said. “It’s just not being able to train properly for a week would justify him not being able to play 100 percent there at the end.”
Though the loss to the Buckeyes will register as a “heartbreaker,” Wisconsin is not allowing itself too much misery. With the Big Ten tournament beginning Thursday, the Badgers are using this game as a reminder of the team’s potential.
“It doesn’t feel like a really bad loss because they are No. 4 in the country,” Pohlmann said. “I think it’s pretty good for us that we were so close to them — it was just one match that decided it. It just shows that we are right there with [Ohio State] and we can hang with them.”