With his 6-foot-5-inch frame, sophomore Billy Bertha has an intimidating physical presence. However, his powerhouse serve and equally powerful groundstrokes are what truly set opponents back on their heels.
For the duration of the weekend, Bertha’s power was consistently present.
Friday against Purdue, Bertha opened his singles match with a set that all tennis fans would love to watch. Bertha and his opponent Krizstian Kroscko were evenly matched in skill, leaving the score close for the first few games. However, a key service break from Bertha followed by a series of technically sound games gave him the first set win.
“I got pretty angry, but my coach was just telling me to try to stay more positive out there,” Bertha said. “For some reason, I kept getting angry, but I worked it out a little bit, which helped me later in the set and I pulled it out, which was good.”
The second set did not appear to go as smoothly. After jumping out to an early 2-0 lead, Bertha lost his momentum when Kroscko benefited from several fortunate bounces, ultimately giving him the means to take a 3-2 lead. Neither player was able to pull away for the remainder of the set, forcing them into a tiebreaker. Kroscko couldn’t handle Bertha’s explosive serve and corner-to-corner base line rally shots and lost the second set and match.
“I got an early lead, which helped put the pressure on him when he was serving,” Bertha said. “He needed to win that [tiebreaker] to stay in the match, and I needed it to win the match, so the pressure was all on him. I served well and made some returns that he missed, and he got a little tight and it didn’t work for him.”
In Sunday’s match against the Indiana Hoosiers, Bertha’s serve was the deciding factor once again. Playing the last doubles match to finish, the fate of the doubles point was left for Bertha and Michalicka to decide. The decisive game went to deuce when Bertha buried a rocket serve to the back corner of the box and gave the advantage to the Badgers. Michalicka struggled at the net, blowing two consecutive match points by missing volleys. Yet, Bertha was determined to finish off the Hoosiers. After a monstrous first serve, Indiana hardly got a racket on the ball, sending it up over Michalicka’s head, and with one powerful overhead, the Badgers pocketed the doubles point.
“[Michalicka] missed a couple of easy shots, so I was just trying to blast the serves so [Michalicka] didn’t have to play the rest of the point,” Bertha said.
This promising first match gave Bertha and the Badgers hope for the remainder of the dual. However, Bertha’s powerhouse serve wouldn’t be enough to pull a win out of his grueling three set singles match against Indiana’s Santiago Gruter.
Gruter made up for the lack of aggressive serve return with his consistency and constant serve-and-volley tactic. Bertha was unable to string together enough points to win more than two games in his opening set, but with a little encouragement from head coach Greg Van Emburgh, Bertha found the confidence to fight back, serve strong and send the match to a third set.
“I was just a lot more positive out there,” Bertha said. “He went off and played really well the first set. Then the second set, I started to pick my energy up and move my feet a little more, and his game dropped a little bit.”
Bertha’s only successful game was early, when he tied the score 1-1. However, that was the last game he took, ultimately losing 6-1.
Bertha’s loss gave the Hoosiers the fourth point they needed to win the dual.
“We were even to start, then [Gruter] picked it up a lot,” Bertha said. “Also, the wind was tough and [Gruter] did a better job of adjusting to it than I did.”