The Wisconsin men’s tennis team had a bittersweet weekend as the Badgers split between their two opponents. The Badgers, now 3-3 in Big Ten play, showed resilience against the Purdue Boilermakers on Friday but were not able to knock off the conference-leading Indiana Hoosiers Sunday afternoon at Nielsen Tennis Stadium.
Friday’s match opened with doubles play, where the No. 70-ranked pair of sophomore Billy Bertha and senior captain Marek Michalicka played its usual solid game in the first doubles position. The duo initially struggled against the aggressive net play from Purdue’s Krisztian Krocsko and Eric Ramos. However, after a key service break, Michalicka and Bertha went ahead 5-3 and kept the momentum for the remainder of the match.
“We didn’t start it well, but we still played our game. After the break, we just got our confidence back and they didn’t believe anymore,” Michalicka said.
Michalicka and Bertha didn’t lose a game the rest of the match and proceeded to win 8-3. The freshman pair of Rod Carey and Fredik Ask in the No. 3 doubles spot also won 8-6 in a close match against Purdue’s Aaron Dujovne and Marc Kovacs. These two wins were enough to secure the doubles point for Wisconsin despite Petr Satral and Ricardo Martin falling at No. 2.
After the initial go ahead, the Badgers’ fortunes were reversed as they lost several consecutive singles matches. Unable to handle the big serve from Kovacs, Martin was the first to fall, losing 6-0, 6-0 at No. 3 singles. Following closely behind were Ask and Carey in the No. 5 and No. 6 spots. Despite facing a 3-1 deficit, the remaining Badgers followed Michalicka’s example and fought back. The senior easily closed out a 6-2, 6-1 match against Tatarczyk. Bertha tied everything with a 6-2, 7-6 victory over Kroscko, leaving the final outcome up to Satral, who secured the victory with a 7-5 third set win.
UW head coach Greg Van Emburgh was pleased with the Badgers’ efforts.
“It was a great college match,” Van Emburgh said. “Our guys are becoming pretty resilient overall. We have battled injuries and sickness, and our guys are still fighting and competing. That shows a lot of heart on their part, and it paid off today.”
Unfortunately, the Badgers were unable to enjoy the victory for very long as Sunday’s match brought a more disappointing outcome. Nature was not on their side as wind and storm threats sullied playing conditions.
The doubles matches began under a sunny, cloudless sky, though. Indiana won the toss and chose to serve. The No. 3 doubles pair of Ask and Carey initially struggled to pull away from Indiana’s Dimitrige Tasic and Isade Juneau. However, the Badgers managed to pull out the victory, 8-5.
In the No. 2 doubles match, the Hoosiers took an early lead from Satral, and Martin never recovered, losing 8-3. With the help of a huge serving game from Bertha, he and Michalicka won 8-6, giving the doubles point to the Badgers.
This excitement faded quickly, though, as the Hoosiers steadily knocked off the Badger’s singles players. Satral could not withstand the aggressive play of Indiana’s Josh MacTaggart and was defeated, 6-1, 6-2. No. 5 Rodney Carey and No. 6 Alex Robles fell soon after Satral, giving the Hoosiers a significant lead of 3-1.
Michalicka was more successful, as he improved his winning streak to four matches by taking down Langer in two sets. Things initially looked routine, as the senior Badger went up 4-0 in the opening set. However, as the wind picked up, Michalicka lost focus and allowed to take the lead at 5-4. The Badger regained composure, though, managing to the match at 6 and sending the set into a seven-point tiebreaker.
UW was not only dealing with the elements but also a rowdy Indiana squad, as the Hoosiers crowded the sidelines to cheer against the Badgers. Despite the distractions, Michalicka was able to escape with a 7-5 victory in the tiebreak and a first set win. He would go on to secure the match with a dominating second set win of 6-1.
“I was up 4-0, 30-love on his serve when I looked around and lost my focus,” Michalicka said. “Then I started to focus on the wind, and everything was bad for me. It’s so hard to play when it’s windy. You don’t hit the ball, you just try to push it more towards the middle of the court. But then I told myself to just keep going for my shots and [play] aggressive.”
The Badgers needed both remaining singles players to succeed in order to win the dual. However, Bertha struggled against the high-bouncing kick serve from Indiana’s Santiago Gruter and lost a grueling three-set match, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1. Bertha’s loss secured the win for the Hoosiers, despite a last effort from Ask. Even with a mid-match ankle injury, Ask defeated Claes Goransson, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6.
While Bertha was inconsistent in high-pressure situations this weekend, his serve remained steady. He clinched the doubles point with his serve and on Friday won a tie break in the second set. On Sunday, he lost in the third set.
Van Emburgh’s disappointment showed, but he is already thinking about Wisconsin’s next matches against Ohio State and Purdue.
“We are still a young team and still gaining experience as we are playing matches,” Van Emburgh said. “As long as we are learning from this and improving for the next match, that’s all we can look forward to.”