Already having achieved the greatest one-year turnaround in school history, Minnesota looks to add another successful chapter to its 2009 season at this weekend’s Big Ten men’s tennis tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The Gophers, who are 18-6 overall and 7-3 in the Big Ten after a 7-17 and 4-6 season in 2008, earned a first-round bye in the tournament as the third seed and open with a quarterfinal match on Friday at 2 p.m. (eastern time) against either sixth-seeded Indiana or 11th-seeded Michigan State. The Gophers are seeded third in the tournament for the fifth time in the past eight years.
Minnesota was the seventh seed last year and put the foundation in place for its turnaround season with a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to second-seeded Wisconsin in the quarterfinals.
The Gophers are coming off one of their most dominating Big Ten weekends in several seasons, blanking both Iowa and Purdue by 7-0 scores for their first back-to-back shutouts in conference play since shutting out Wisconsin and Indiana in 2003. Their shutout win over Iowa on Friday was their first 7-0 Big Ten victory in three seasons. Minnesota is ranked No. 32 nationally and in line for its 14th NCAA tournament appearance in the past 17 years.
Three Minnesota players have won eight of their last 10 matches entering this weekend’s competition as Tobias Wernet, Dino Bilankov and Michael Sicora are all riding hot streaks. The Gophers have six players with at least 20 wins and Phillip Arndt one win away with a 19-10 season mark.
No. 1 singles player Ishay Hadash is currently 20-10 overall and 7-3 against Big Ten competition to rank 58th in the country. Wernet has put together an impressive 25-8 record at No. 2 singles, including an 18-5 mark in dual matches and 8-2 Big Ten ledger to rank 81st nationally. Sebastian Gallego is 23-12 at No. 3 singles and Bilankov is 21-7 as the team’s No. 4 player.
A pair of freshmen round out the lineup as Julian Dehn has a team-high five-match winning streak and is 21-14 overall at No. 5, while Michael Sicora has held the No. 6 spot and is 20-8. Arndt has also been in the rotation and could give the Gophers a rare feat of seven 20-match winners with a win this weekend.
Minnesota beat both Indiana and Michigan State by 6-1 scores during the regular season. If the Gophers are able to advance through the quarterfinals, they would likely face second-seeded and 14th-ranked Illinois in the semifinals. The Illini beat the Gophers 4-3 in an intense match on April 5.
Minnesota has not reached the Big Ten tournament championship match since 2002 and has not won the event since 1995. Top-seeded Ohio State is the three-time defending champion as the Buckeyes and Illinois have combined to win the past 12 titles.