Before the final match of the Big Ten men’s tennis singles championships on Monday, Minnesota’s Thomas Haug carried himself with the poise of a man who knew he was about to win it all.
Having just dispatched his teammate Manuel Lievano in the semifinals, Haug confidently watched the other semifinal match between Ohio State’s Vincent Ng and Minnesota’s Aleksey Zharinov from a courtside bench at the Baseline Tennis Center.
When Ng upset the second-seeded Zharinov in straight sets, Haug figured the title was his.
“I’d rather play a guy from my team, but when Ng won in the semifinals, I was feeling good,” Haug said. “I liked (Ng’s) game in the semis, because I knew I could win against him.”
But Ng, the seventh seed in the tournament, had other plans, surprising the third-seeded Haug 6-4, 6-4 to win the conference title.
Ng thus put an end to a weekend which, like the courts at the Gophers’ new facility, had been colored maroon and gold. Zharinov thundered through the bracket on his run to the semifinals, winning all four matches in straight sets and posting four 6-0 sets.
The Novosibirsk, Russia native hammered Purdue’s Andrew Wakefield so badly in the quarterfinals that he won more games than Wakefield won points (5) in the first set of a 6-0, 6-2 victory.
Lievano provided the tournament’s most gripping match, battling back from a first set tiebreaker loss to defeat Iowa’s Stuart Waters, the tournament’s top seed, in the second round.
And Haug overcame a stiff knee on Saturday to give Minnesota three of the four players in Monday’s semifinals and making an all-Gophers final look highly likely.
But Ng, the one man who could prevent the tournament’s final matches from turning into an intrasquad scrimmage, did just that.
Using his powerful forehand and solid first serve, Ng upset three of the tournament’s top four seeds on his way to a win in the finals.
“I was certain Aleksey would win in the semifinals, and he didn’t,” Minnesota head coach David Geatz said. “I thought Thomas would win in the final, and he didn’t. Give Ng credit. He stepped his game up probably 15 percent in the final match.”
Lievano also predicted a victory for Haug in the final, but Ng broke Haug’s serve five times in the match.
“That was probably the key in the match,” Haug said. “He was getting his first serve over about 85 percent of the time, and I was only hitting mine around 45 percent. I knew he would keep everything coming back over the net.”
Chris Wettengel gave the Gophers a fourth player in the 16th round before losing to Michigan State’s Adam Formanczyk 7-6, 6-1.
Other Minnesota players competing included Eric Robertson and Steve Solberg, both of whom lost in the second round, and Nate McLain, who fell in his opening match.
After the final match, Haug meandered around the tennis center stands and introduced Geatz to his father, who had flown from Switzerland for the tournament. For all the bravado he displayed before the match, the senior looked happy just to be the main event for one afternoon.
“I’m going back to Switzerland next year, and most people don’t know or care about the Big Ten tennis championship there,” Haug said. “I’m happy getting as far as I did, and I’m happy for the team. We showed other teams we’re ready to play.”