©Colette Lewis 2008--
Ann Arbor, MI
It may have been a dismal Mother's Day in Ann Arbor weatherwise, but for the Michigan Wolverines, the clouds and cold rain that sent their match with Texas Tech indoors had the ultimate silver lining--a trip to the Sweet Sixteen in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Michigan, the No. 16 seed, defeated 17th ranked Texas Tech 4-2, when junior Andrew Mazlin clinched for the second straight day, taking out Lenoir Ramos 6-3, 6-7(1), 6-3 at No. 3 singles.
"It's an amazing feeling," said Mazlin, who was serving for the match at 5-4 40-15 in the second set, only to see Ramos win four straight points to even the set, then cruise through the tiebreaker to even the match. "It's been a goal since I got here to make NCAAs and go the Sweet Sixteen. We made NCAAs the past two years, but we knew we had a great opportunity hosting this year."
That advantage was never more obvious than during the doubles, when the crowd of 500 provided thunderous support from the opening point. The No. 2 doubles team of Mike Sroczynski and Jason Jung gave them plenty to cheer about, finishing off Milos Kustudija and Sinisa Markovic 8-1 in about thirty minutes. Michigan was also up a break at No. 1 doubles, but it was their No. 3 team of Chris Madden and George Navas who succeeded in ending the doubles competition with a one-break, 8-5 win over Ramos and Ilya Babinciuc of Texas Tech.
"Everyone who was here was so into it," said Michigan coach Bruce Berque. "Our guys wanted to take it to another level with their support of each other, and I asked them to feed off the crowd. There was something different about this atmosphere today; it was terrific and a really big lift to our team."
The noise generated by the fans, hungry for their first trip to the final 16 in twenty years, was enhanced by the close quarters. Tim Siegel, head coach of Texas Tech, admitted that playing inside may have given the Wolverines an edge.
"Obviously they prefer to be indoors and we're a team that prefers to be outside," Siegel said. "But that had nothing to do with the outcome. They earned it. It was a great college match. I think the turning point was at No. 4. We were up 5-1 in the second set, and I think if we'd gotten that set, we had momentum on our side."
In that match with Babinciuc, Sroczynski had breezed in the first set, taking it 6-2, and then improbably avoided a third set by winning the final six games to give Michigan its second point.
"I'd rolled through the first set, and I was expecting him to give it to me in the second," said Sroczynski, a sophomore from New Jersey. "I got lackadaisical, lost my serve, then lost my serve again. I was down a couple of set points, but I kept telling myself I could come back on this guy, his serve wasn't that good, and if I played a couple of good return games he'd get tight, start to choke a little bit, and that's what happened."
In addition to his opponent's mental lapses, Sroczynski also pointed to the crowd as a major factor in his turnaround.
"I had goosebumps out here," said Sroczynski, whose game is particlarly well-suited to indoor play. "It is the craziest atmosphere I've ever played in personally."
Texas Tech immediately cut the Wolverine lead in half with Christian Rojmar's 6-3, 6-4 win at No. 5 over Madden. This was at the point in Mazlin's match when he couldn't convert on his two match points in the second set, so there was no sense of impending victory by the Wolverine faithful, especially when Mazlin dropped the tiebreaker.
At No. 1, Michigan senior Matko Maravic had lost the first set to Bojan Szumanski in a tiebreaker, but was up a break in the second, while at No. 6, Navas was closing out Kustudija 6-4, 6-4. Kustudija was called into service for the Raiders when Michael Breler, who went 17-2 at that position during the regular season, came down with a rash that kept him out of both the weekend's matches. At No. 2 singles, Tech's Markovic had taken a long first set from Michigan's Jung in a tiebreaker. When Markovic gave the Red Raiders their second point, with his 7-6(5), 6-4 victory, the matches at No. 3 and No. 1 were just entering the third sets.
Both Mazlin and Maravic took early third-set leads, with Mazlin up 3-0 and Maravic up 2-0. Ramos got the break back to make it 3-4, but was immediately broken to given Mazlin another chance to serve out the match. Maravic, the senior co-captain from Croatia, bailed himself out of break points with outstanding serving, at one stage hitting three unreturnable serves when down 30-40. He also took full advantage of Szumanski's second serve--cracking many a backhand return winner. Maravic earned his second break in a four-deuce game at 2-4, but he did not get a chance to earn the final point, as Szumanski called for a trainer at the changeover.
Meanwhile, Mazlin was up 40-0, but two more match points came and went. With all his teammates and spectators alternately screaming and holding their collective breaths, Mazlin hit a gigantic first serve for an ace. Ramos held up his finger and shook his head, calling it out, but the chair umpire overruled his call, and after a slight delay, the celebration began.
"It was a very tight call," said Mazlin. "It could have gone either way, but there's been a lot of tight calls during the whole match. I thought it was in, the ref thought it was in, it was match point, you might as well call it out anyway, at that point."
With the chants of "Let's Go Blue" still echoing in their ears, the Michigan team began to look ahead to Tulsa, and their rematch there next Friday with No. 1 Virginia.
"They're obviously a great team, the best team in the country," said Berque, whose team dropped a 5-2 home decision to the Cavaliers in February. "But we were competitive with them at home. If we hadn't played them, I think there might be a little fear involved. But we'll have to come up with another effort like this to even have a chance; I think our guys will play loose and go out there and enjoy themselves."
For complete scores, see mgoblue.com.
Sunday, May 11, 2008