The Wisconsin men's tennis team opened dual season play Saturday with three overwhelming victories over non-conference foes Butler, UW-Whitewater and Green Bay.
""All the teams that we played today were definitely competitive,"" Wisconsin head coach Greg Van Emburgh said after match play wound down Saturday. ""We're going to have a long season, so we want to start out by getting matched tough, and we were able to do that right here at Nielsen.""
The No. 32 Badgers made quick work of Butler (0-2), downing the unranked opponent 6-1 overall. Junior Brandon Bayliss was the only Bulldog to come up with a singles win for the day, beating Wisconsin freshman Chris Freeman 6-4, 6-4, and earning Butler its first point of the season in dual play. With wins from seniors Michael Dierberger and Luke Rassow-Kantor in the No. 1 doubles position and freshman Billy Bertha and junior Marek Michalicka at No. 3, the Badgers collected the remaining singles points.
The squad only improved on the morning's victory in mid-afternoon play, beating Division III, in-state rival UW-Whitewater 7-0. In doubles play, the Badgers swept all three matches, a stat that doesn't accurately reflect the fight waged at No. 1 by the Warhawks against sophomore Patrick Pohlmann and Freeman, who finally pulled out the win, 8-6.
Whitewater forced three first-set tiebreaks in singles play, but lost steam quickly, winning only 10 second set games across all six positions and surrendering the remaining points to the Badgers. Among the Badgers who got a chance to shine in Saturday's series was a January addition, freshman Ricardo Martin. Martin picked up three straight-set singles wins and an 8-2 doubles victory with Bertha.
""My first two [matches] were OK, and then I started to play so much better,"" Martin, who could hardly have had a better debut, said. ""I had hoped to win all my games, and I did.""
After more than five hours on the court, the men maintained their pace in a singles only contest against UW-Green Bay. Putting down any possible questions of fitness, Michalicka, Dierberger, Bertha, Freeman and Martin dismissed their opponents, each dropping no more than five games. The Badgers suffered their only loss at No. 3 as Pohlmann fell to Phoenix sophomore Paul Swanson after cramping up in a super tiebreak for the third set.
Pohlmann may have felt the consequences of a difficult day, participating in five matches and contesting tiebreaks in all three of his singles matches. Even with the loss, the Badgers won 5-1.
Saturday's sweep was exactly the result sought by the Badgers, who entered the dual season this spring five places ahead of last year's No. 37 finish. On the roster, No. 6 senior Moritz Baumann and No. 20 Michalicka started the season with their highest career rankings yet, and the Badgers welcome freshmen Bertha, Martin and Freeman to the squad.
""When they came in, we knew they could play, and they just fit in right away,"" the veteran Dierberger said of the newcomers. ""Which has been great on and off the court, so that always helps the team chemistry.""
According to Van Emburgh, the team still has plenty of experience to go around, balancing youthful additions and talented veterans.
""I don't think we're going to have too many guys who are really green underneath the collar,"" Van Emburgh said. ""We've got some experienced tennis players, and I think they know what's at stake, and they're going to be up for the challenge.""