“Wow, I’ve never played in front of this many people. These fans are so behind you.”
Freshman tennis player Jasper Koenen was amazed by the 180 plus spectators packed in the MSU Indoor tennis facility on Thursday afternoon, as the MSU men’s tennis team took on the University of Memphis, who are ranked No. 21 in the country.
The stakes were big, it was the third home match of the season and over 1000 people were invited on a Facebook event; it had all the characteristics of an enticing match. However, the Spartans could not hang on in the end and dropped a close match to Memphis, 5-2.“It was definitely a big learning experience how you can use the crowd and teammates to believe in yourself,” Koenen added.
The Spartans were off to a great start, by taking the first doubles point by winning two of the three doubles matches. No. 2 doubles finished first by a dominating spike and celebration from Gjis Linders along with the partnership of Brett Forman. Koenen and Zade finished seconds after. Jadun and Mullane were tied at 6-6 but did not finish its doubles point.
“That was exciting, huh?” commented a fan from the stands after the doubles matches.
The crowd was the loudest it has been all season long, and senior tennis player Harry Jadun agreed.
“The energy in the building was electric,” Jadun said. “Not many places in the nation have that much energy during a tennis match.”
The Spartans now only needed to win three of six singles matches to get a team win over Memphis. However, Memphis had a hard hitting No. 1 singles player in No. 102 Connor Glennon and a No. 2 singles player in No. 40 Andrew Watson. According to Memphis’ Shakeel Manji, Watson had serves clocked at 140 miles per hour and Glennon had been clocked at 125 miles per hour in practice.
The hard hitting Glennon got the best of Linders in singles. Linders dropped 6-0, 7-6.
“I came up on too many balls the first set and shanked too many balls that I should’ve,” Linders explained. “I was trying to deliver a punch rather than just taking it from him. He [Glennon] serves big, has a big forehand and took the ball really early and it took away time from me. It gave me pressure on my strokes.”
Freshman Michael Dube dropped quickly as well, 6-3, 6-3. However, sophomore Brett Forman put the Spartans on the board in singles by winning 6-4, 6-2.
In Koenen’s first set, he was down 4-0 and then 5-2, but came back to even it up 5-5. However, he couldn’t quite hold on and lost the first set 7-5. He ended up losing the second set 6-4 in a close one.
It all came down to the matches of Harry Jadun and John Patrick Mullane, as the Spartans needed to win the two matches for the overall win. The crowd hovered over the two tennis courts and the chants really picked up.
“For us, it was good to have the crowd there,” Linders said. “They showed us there’s another level to competing and being a Spartan.
It especially helped Jadun for his match, as it was the first time this year that more of his friends and family members came out to watch.
Mullane came ready to play and started up 3-1. He is ranked No. 40 nationally in singles, but he dropped five games straight to lose 6-3.
“Especially to play in front of the people I care about the most, I felt it at the beginning,” Jadun said. ”I put a lot of pressure on myself at the beginning of the match, but then they started getting loud and I got a little momentum. I didn’t pull [my match] out, but it helped me come back in the first set.”
Jadun was down 4-1 early in the first set, came back to tie it at 6-6, but ended up losing the game 7-6. In the second set, Jadun was down 5-4, made it 5-5 and then won the game to move into a third set.
While playing his third set, John Patrick Mullane was already in his third and dropped before Jadun could finish. Mullane was heartbroken after the match since Memphis sealed the team win. He was unavailable for comments after the game.
“It’s tough coming back,” head coach Gene Orlando said to Mullane after the match. “You can be the best shape you can be in, but how do you prepare for that without playing?”
“He was right there. He has to weather the storm, hope his body cooperates and feel like he’s getting healthier and be ready by the Big Ten season,” Orlando added.
The Spartans dropped a marquee match, but there is still a long way to go for the team this season. The NCAA tournament rankings do not come out until March and the Spartans have a chance to knock out a handful of top 25 teams at home.
“It’s a good gut check for the team, Orlando said. “They should be proud the way they competed and played their hearts out. We’re doing what we need to do, won the doubles point early. A team that can beat us after winning the doubles point here at home, they’re pretty good.”
The next opportunity for the team to prove itself is this Sunday against Western Michigan. Two years ago, the Spartans were upset by Western in Kalamazoo 4-3 and the fans stormed the court.
“We’re not going to forget that,” Linders said. “People are starving to get a revenge win. We’re going to play the Spartan way and go get a win on the road.”
“We’re hungry for our in-state rivals this Saturday,” added Koenen. “We’re ready to take care of business.”
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Gjis Linders’ knee was dinged up during his singles match on Thursday. His match was paused, but he finished out his match. He had a plastic bag of ice on his knee after the game but he said he should be good for Sunday.
John Patrick Mullane played both doubles and singles, and should be good to go on Sunday for both.
Freshman Alex Kim most likely will be redshirted and has no timetable for a return due to injury.
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Where was Mac?
Sophomore Mac Roy did not play in the match versus Memphis on Thursday. Roy got into a scuffle with Brett Forman during sprints during practice on Tuesday and tempers flared. Orlando kept him out against Memphis for lashing out against Forman in practice. There is no reported timetable for his return.
Alex Scharg is a multimedia journalist and the host of Match Point for Impact Sports.
Photo: Alex Scharg and Scott Wasserman/Impact Sports