verified vicious voracity
*For an explanation of NCAA scoring matches, see Appendix A.
Big Ten play is still over a month away, but plenty has already happened in the 2011-2012 Michigan men's tennis season. Following Saturday's 5-2 win over #32 LSU, the #28 Wolverines are 4-2 on the year. The two 4-3 losses on the year so far were tough matchups against top ranked #10 Duke and #21 Texas Tech.
The last time we saw the Wolverines in action vs. LSU at the Varsity Tennis Center Saturday last, the Wolverines gave up their first doubles point of the year. No. 3 court Petrone/Zhu (both freshmen) fell 3-8, while on No. 2 court, Buzzi/Franks (sophomores) gamely played on after dropping the break, falling 6-8. King/Bernstein (Jr/Soph) rolled 8-3 on No. 1 court. LSU's players served up many lobs on the doubles courts, testing Michigan's deployment of both men beyond the baseline at times.
In singles Michigan players won all but one of their matches. On court 2 Bernstein won a grueling three-set decision, 7-6, 3-6, 7-6. King(1), Petrone(3), and Zhu(4) won their matches easily in two sets. On court 5 Franks had to stay focused at the end but also prevailed in two, 6-4, 7-5.
Implications for Big Ten play and NCAA Championships
In the Big Ten it's all about the fight for second, and Michigan is as competitive as any team in the league. As much as it pains me to say it, this Michigan team will probably not have what it takes to defeat the Ohio State buzzsaw. #3 Ohio is loaded top to bottom like always and will probably overpower Michigan's young team. Even with the somewhat more seasoned teams of a few years back, scoring one or even two points on Ohio represented a fantastic effort on the part of Michigan's players. King, the #6-rated singles player in the nation, defeated two of Ohio's starters at the October Midwest Regional, clipping #2 Blaz Rolo 7-5, 7-5, and #5 Chase Buchanan 5-7, 6-0, 6-3.
Even with King holding down court 1, the rest of the team is very young. King is the only upperclassman on the team. The style of the team has adjusted somewhat with its youth. Power serving is no longer the preferred style of half of the starters, since no one has a dominant or consistent enough power serve. King has the best serve by far on the team. Unfortunately Bernstein and Buzzi have trouble avoiding double faults and hitting their serves at angles designed to force the defenders into difficult shots. True freshmen are playing scored singles matches. The good news is that everyone comes back next year with more experience and weight training. For the moment it's very much a quick-oriented team, much more so than the Maravic-esque long volleys of yesteryear. A smaller team is more vulnerable to being pushed around the court by tall power tennis players. Fortunately LSU did not have the right kind of roster to beat this team. In fact some of their players were serving up multiple double faults even in doubles play.
Michigan will get some nice wins and drop some close calls on the road while looking to extend their six-year NCAA Championships streak. 13-11 qualified the team in 2010-11. Penciling in likely wins covers Hawaii, MSU(terrible), @Minnesota(lost to LSU 4-0), Purdue, Nebraska, Iowa at 10-2. Michigan would need only 3 more wins to match its record from last year. With some decent breaks Michigan can qualify for the NCAA championships for the seventh year.
Appendix A: NCAA Scoring Matches, Odds and Ends
In NCAA men's college tennis serving, there is no such thing as a "let". If the ball hits the net and then falls in the service box, it counts as a legal serve and must be returned. For the most part this inexplicable rule keeps a few net-kissed top-spin shots in bounds but there are occasional inadvertant drop shot "serves" created that amount to free points for the server. So it goes.
Scoring matches (regular season)
Begin with three doubles courts. Each plays a single set to 8 winning by 2 or tiebreaker at 8-8. Whichever school wins 2 out of the 3 doubles matches gets one match point. After a 20-minute break the 6 singles matches begin. Each singles match is worth one match point for the team. Whichever team scores 4 points first wins the match, although 7-0 routs are not uncommon.
Singles matches can be two sets long, two sets with a super-tiebreaker if the game goes to three sets after the outcome of the match has been decided, or three sets if the outcome of the match has not been decided. The sets are played to 6, win by 2, tiebreak at 6-6.
Scoring matches (Tournament)
Same basic structure as regular season scoring matches. However, when two courts from the same team win in doubles, doubles play is over on the spot. This can sometimes cut the third game short. Singles matches are played until one team scores 4 points, at which point all singles matches remaining are called off. The idea is to help preserve the health of the players with an extended four- or five-day tournament schedule.
Appendix B: Chart? Chart! Standings as of February 7, 2012.