The Michigan State men’s tennis team struggled to keep up with Northwestern in the MSU Indoor Tennis Center on Sunday during their Senior Day match, losing 6-1.
The matches started off with doubles where freshman Ozan Baris and fifth-year Anthony Pero tried their best to get an edge over their Wildcat opponents, graduate students Steven Forman and Simen Bratholm but couldn’t in the end, losing 6-4.
Next, junior Graydon Lair and sophomore Max Sheldon brought some good news with a 6-4 win against Northwestern graduate student Trice Pickens and senior Natan Spear. The two celebrated with a victory jump.
Junior Reed Crocker and senior Kazuki Matsuno seemed to be doing well, but eventually missed hits and out shots got the better of them, as they fell to Northwestern junior Gleb Blekher and graduate student Ivan Yatsuk 6-4.
Senior day celebrations commenced between the doubles and singles matches, with Pero and Matsuno being honored alongside their families.
Singles was the Spartans' last chance to get a win, needing four players to upset their Northwestern opponents.
Lair finished first against the Wildcats’ junior Presley Thieneman, losing 6-4 in the first set and 6-2 in the second.
Freshman David Saye competed hard, but in the end Northwestern’s Blekher was just the stronger player winning 6-1, 6-3.
This meant that victory depended on Baris, Sheldon, junior Luke Baylis and Pero.
Baris, who seemed to be having an off day, was struggling to keep hits in and make ones in the back court. He ended up losing 6-4, 6-4 to Forman and with him, the Spartans' chance of victory was gone.
The matches kept playing through and Sheldon was competing hard, making Northwestern's Yatsuk upset. Sheldon won the first set, 7-6 and due to time constraints, they had to do a tiebreaker for the second. The second set had both at 6-6, but Yatsuk was able to best Sheldon and won the tie 7-5. Leading the second set to end at 7-6 and bring them into a third set.
The third set wouldn’t be played through however and would also be a tiebreaker of 10 points. Sheldon provided some strong hits and while Yatsuk’s serves were difficult to return, Sheldon came out on top, winning 10-7 in the tiebreaker and winning the match overall.
This was Sheldon’s second win of the day and he said it felt like great and wanted to give the team his all on Senior Day. He highlighted what he did well during the match.
“I’d say doubles was just keeping that energy,” Sheldon said. “Me and G, you know, when we get fired up we’re an unstoppable force. And I think singles I was really able to return well, playing the closest thing to John Isner in college tennis. So being able to break and win some points in target is pretty crucial.”
Coach Harry Jadun said Sheldon really stood out in today’s match.
“The guy he played was a really tough player, tough player to play as well,” Jadun said. “I mean, he, big server, you don't get many long rallies with him. He could play really good tennis and then also he could go off the rails a little bit. Max just kind of stayed there, weathered the storm and won a really tough tiebreaker against him.”
That would be the last win of the day for the Spartans as Pero continued to compete against NU’s Pickens. Pero also had to deal with a tiebreaker in his first set after being at 6-6 and ultimately lost it 8-6.
Pero was coming back strong for the second set and it seemed like he still had a chance a the win with his volleys that Pickens could not return. Ultimately, Pickens got to walk away with the win, ending the second set at 7-5.
“I just feel like they had a lot of seniors that played a little bit tougher than us in the big moments,” Jadun said. “But, we had some really bright spots and Max Sheldon obviously our sophomore, pulling off a ranked win against the number two singles player and just Anthony Pero one of our seniors really battling. Picked up a doubles win on the three doubles court. So some bright spots and stuff to work on before we hit the big 10 tournament in Bloomington, but we're heading the right direction.”
It was Jadun’s first regular season as head coach and he said it was a whirlwind. This first season he felt like he was just getting his feet underneath him. He’s excited to see what the future holds as they have some great players on the team right now, great recruits coming in and a big culture developing.
As for next steps, it looks like Baris will qualify for singles in the NCAA tournament and for doubles with Sheldon.
The team is also off to the Big Ten Tournament where they are set to compete as a No. 7 seed against Purdue in Bloomington, Indiana at 2 p.m. on Thursday, April 27.