Minnesota improves at No. 5 singles

The Gophers have won two straight matches at the No. 5 singles spot.

Minnesota senior Juan Pablo Ramirez returns a serve at the match against Tulsa on Friday, December 10, 2013 at Baseline Tennis Center.

Lisa Persson

Minnesota senior Juan Pablo Ramirez returns a serve at the match against Tulsa on Friday, December 10, 2013 at Baseline Tennis Center.

by Jace Frederick

The Gophers men’s tennis team lost 11 consecutive matches at the No. 5 singles spot to start the season.

Even for a team that doesn’t measure its success with results, that’s hard not to notice.

“We know we’ve been struggling at the bottom of the lineup,” senior Juan Pablo Ramirez said.

Ramirez contributed three of the 11 defeats to start the season. He also contributed the potential momentum-changing victory.

Ramirez knocked off Nebraska’s Bradford Zitsch in straight sets Sunday. It was the Gophers’ second consecutive victory at the No. 5 spot, following junior Eric Frueh’s win over Florida Gulf Coast’s Lance Lvovsky a few days earlier.

Both times Minnesota got the ‘W’ in that spot, it went on to win the match.

Minnesota assistant coach Rok Bonin said that’s not a coincidence. He said the newfound success at No. 5 is the biggest difference that’s helped push the Gophers back over the .500 mark (8-7, 2-1).

“That’s a really important spot, and we have to keep winning in that spot in order to beat the best teams,” Bonin said. “I hope we’ve found the right combination there.”

The importance of that spot was evident in past years. The Gophers were a respectable 9-11 at No. 5 singles in 2012 and 10-14 a year ago — a far cry from the lackluster results achieved up to this point this season.

Bonin said the biggest key for guys at the bottom of the lineup is confidence.

For Ramirez, that was starting to dwindle with each loss.

“I was a bit frustrated, because I was playing and playing and losing,” he said. “I think I lost four matches in a row.

“Sometimes, if I would have won my match, we could have won the dual. It was just hard.”

Some of that confidence was restored last weekend with his win in the Gophers’ victory over No. 60 Nebraska. Ramirez said it’s good to see his hard work finally paying off.

“It’s nice to start winning and start helping the team more,” he said.

Frueh said the players at the bottom of the lineup were able to push through the rough patch early in the season by focusing on improvement rather than wins and losses.

“We always want to win, but at the same time, if we just worry about wins and losses every single day, then we’re going to have a hard time getting through the season,” he said.

So while the tough start wasn’t ideal, Bonin, Frueh and Ramirez all agreed that this is the time of year — as the schedule rolls to the heart of the Big Ten season — when the Gophers want to be playing their best tennis.

That starts with success at the bottom of the order.

“We’re making the right steps in that direction,” Frueh said.