A certain six words have constantly floated around the Wisconsin men’s tennis team this season: “We need to work on doubles.”
All year long, the Badgers’ doubles lineup has gone through constant rearranging and recombining, almost to the effect of speed dating.
But now, it seems as if someone cut the music and everyone found his match, resulting in head coach Greg Van Emburgh beginning to sing a new tune.
“I think our doubles is really solid right now,” he said. “They’re working together a little better… communicating a lot and also playing really aggressive. We spend a lot of time on doubles, and I think they’re really starting to get it right now.”
Now serves as a convenient time for the Badgers to sharpen their dull edges.
The upcoming weekend brings what should be Wisconsin’s toughest match of the season against the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes — not to mention the Big Ten tournament is just a little over a week away.
Currently, Wisconsin has won the doubles point in each of its last three matches. Before that streak, the team had claimed only one doubles point win in the previous four.
Of the different combinations that Wisconsin has used this season, 10 different pairings appeared in two or more matches together so far this season. The unit finally got rejuvenated when Michael Dierberger and Patrick Pohlmann were reunited for the first time since they briefly partnered up last fall.
In September, the two made an impressive run at the Baylor Invitational, reaching the quarterfinals before losing a tiebreaker to a nationally ranked duo from host Baylor.
Earlier in the season, Dierberger was primarily paired with Luke Rassow-Kantor while Pohlmann normally teamed up with Chris Freeman.
Upon their reunion nearly seven months later, Dierberger and Pohlmann have blazed a trail through their competition “pretty easily,” as Pohlmann says. They have only allowed an opponent to score more than two points once as they have burst to a 3-0 start.
“We played really well in the fall,” Pohlmann said. “We knew we were already a pretty good team and what being on the court together was like. We know each other pretty well off the court, and it just transfers onto the court.”
Dierberger and Pohlmann have served as a nice complement to Wisconsin’s No. 1 doubles team of Moritz Baumann and Marek Michalicka, which ranks 16th in the nation.
Early in the season, however, Baumann and Michalicka struggled to establish their groove. As a result, Van Emburgh thought it best to split the two apart for a while, causing further reshuffling down the lineup.
“We had a couple ups and downs this season,” Michalicka said. “We just couldn’t find a way to play together because we lost some matches we shouldn’t have lost.”
After losing two consecutive doubles matches against Texas Tech and Nebraska, Baumann and Michalicka spent the next four matches apart to regain their bearings. Upon their reunion, it was evident that just a little time apart was all that was needed, as they ousted Illinois’s nationally ranked duo. The two have stayed in old form ever since, as they remain undefeated against ranked opponents with a 4-0 record.
“They’re back, playing it like they were in the fall,” Van Emburgh said. “I’m just really excited they both have found their games together again. I think they’re going to be able to do some damage from here on to the NCAAs.”
Unlike most sports, the tennis players themselves are involved in lineup decisions. Although Van Emburgh ultimately has the final say, Michalicka says that players are always approached for feedback, and their responses are taken into consideration for future changes. Pohlmann also described it as a team decision.
Obviously, finding the best possible lineup for a team can be difficult.
After much deliberation, the Badgers are finally wearing smiles when the word “doubles” is mentioned; because after all, it took a lot of hard work and time to find satisfaction in that aspect of the game.
It’s not something that can be practiced. When it comes to doubles partners, a naturally heightened sense of understanding between the players is vital towards success, as well as familiarity with game play and personality.
“The two guys have to understand each other,” Michalicka said. “They have to be a similar kind of person on the court and have to know and read the other guy about what he’s going to do so they can cover and cross (on the court). I think that’s the most important thing.”
Beyond that, everyone also can have a few personal preferences of their own.
“Some people need a louder person as their partner, some people don’t,” Dierberger said. “For me, Pat’s great because he brings a lot of energy to the table and it helps get me fired up — and then I play my best tennis.”