The Michigan State Spartans’ men’s tennis team had a tough season, finishing 6-14 overall in a Big Ten conference-only schedule. The Spartans had to face three different ranked opponents, thanks to the conference only slate, and were swept in all eight of those meetings.
MSU got off to a difficult start right off the bat with what was being deemed a non-conference double-header dual against the No. 8 Buckeyes on Feb. 13. Ohio State swept Michigan State in both, 0-7 in the opener and 0-4 in the afternoon’s action. OSU won all six singles matches in the morning, along with the doubles point. The afternoon saw Ohio State win all three doubles. Then in singles play, the Buckeyes clinched points at No. 1, No. 3, and No. 5 for the sweep.
The matches came almost a year after the last time the team was able to take the court, a Feb. 29, 2020 match against Brown. Despite the season supposedly being a conference-only schedule, the Buckeyes had already faced Middle Tennessee State and Virginia the weekend prior to Michigan State. How exactly those matches for OSU were scheduled in what was a “conference-only” season is unclear.
The following weekend, Minnesota and Wisconsin came to East Lansing to take on the Spartans. MSU managed to rally for the 4-3 win against the Golden Gophers on Saturday, Feb. 20. The teams had a close day that ended up tied 3-3 heading into the dual-clinching third-set in No. 2 singles. Redshirt sophomore Nick Williams lost the first set 4-6 to Wisconsin’s Dylan Heap, rallied to win the second 6-3, and trailed 1-4 in the third set before rallying to force a tiebreaker. He won 7-1 and clinched the victory for MSU.
Unfortunately, the Spartans were swept 7-0 on Sunday against the Badgers. The following weekend featured a trip to West Lafayette to take on Purdue Saturday and Indiana Sunday. In the Purdue matches on Feb. 27, Josh Mukherjee and Nick Williams beat Michal Wozniak and Milledge Cossu at No. 1, 6-3, and Carson Gates and John Carlin topped Mateo Julio and Sebastian Welch at No. 2, 6-2 to give the Spartans the doubles point. Drew Keene and Reed Crocker were also up on court No. 3, leading 5-2, but their match was called early as MSU secured the doubles point.
Anthony Pero extended MSU’s lead to 2-0 with wins of 6-4 and 6-0 in singles. Purdue’s Mateo got the Boilermakers on the board in a 6-2 and 6-4 defeat of Mukherjee, but Drew Keene opened the lead back up with 6-4 and 6-3 wins over Cossu. Michigan State’s remaining singles matches would end with the Spartans winning 5-2. Sunday’s action against Indiana ended with a Hoosier sweep in points for a 7-0 win over MSU.
Following the loss to Indiana, the match at Michigan on March 7 was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. The Spartans next took to the courts on March 12 in East Lansing against No. 8 Ohio State and then Penn State on March 14. Michigan State fell in both, 0-7 to Ohio State and 2-5 against Penn State. However, a trip to Lincoln was next up on the schedule to face Nebraska on March 19 and then Iowa in Iowa City on March 21.
Michigan State won the doubles point against the Huskers for a second-straight match. Williams and Matsuno earned their fourth straight win in Big Ten action, besting with a 7-6 (7-5) tiebreaker over Nebraska’s Brandon Perez and Victor Moreno Lozano. Jarreau Campbell and Graydon Lair also got a 6-3 win over Nebraska’s Patrick Cacciatore and Albert Sprlak-Puk on court No. 3. Cacciatore fell to Drew Keene in straight sets at No. 6 singles, giving MSU the 2-0 lead. But Nebraska got on the board with a victory at No. 4 singles. However, the Spartans clinched the dual when Williams took down Perez on the No. 2 court, 6-4 and 6-2, and Lair won 6-2 and 7-5 on the No. 5 court against the Cornhuskers’ Nic Wiedenhorn.
Carson Gates dropped a third-set super tiebreaker at No. 3 singles to Shunya Maruyama, 6-4, 3-6, 1-0 (10-4). However, Josh Mukherjee ended the dual for Michigan State after edging Moreno Lozano in the top spot, 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 1-0 (10-8) for the victory for MSU.
Two days later, the Spartans downed the Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City in a hard-fought, close 4-3 victory. Michigan State won the doubles point for the third-straight match, with Matsuno and Williams winning their fifth-straight against the No. 17 Hawkeyes doubles tandem of Oliver Okonkwo and Will Davis. It also marked the duo’s second win over a ranked duo opponent, having downed Ohio State’s No. 37 James Trotter and James Boulais the previous Friday in East Lansing. MSU lost some momentum in singles, but held on for the win to move to 4-4 in Big Ten action.
The next weekend’s action was less than ideal, however. Losses in Evanston to Northwestern, 0-7, on March 26 and at No. 14 Illinois on March 28, and 0-7 sweep awaited Michigan State. However, a return visit by Purdue on April 3 ended the two-match losing streak. The Spartans again downed Purdue, 5-2. However, Indiana followed on April 4 and again bested Michigan State, as the Spartans lost 1-6. The loss to Indiana also came on seniors weekend.
The postponed matches against Michigan were next up as the No. 7 Wolverines visited East Lansing on Friday, April 9 and the Spartans headed to Ann Arbor on Sunday, April 11. Unfortunately the result was back-to-back 0-7 sweeps by Michigan. Despite being tied at 5-5, Williams and Matsuno’s No. 1 doubles was unfinished against Michigan’s No. 23 Andrew Fenty and Mattias Siimar as the other doubles were won by Michigan for the point. However, they managed to stay in the rankings despite going unfinished that Sunday, and down 4-2 after the other doubles were taken by Michigan.
The regular season ended on the road for the Spartans, starting with a trip to No. 8 Ohio State on April 16. A third straight 0-7 loss ensued, along with a full season sweep by the Buckeyes. A trip to Penn State on Sunday, April 18 was the final match for the regular season. Graydon Lair came back to beat Penn State’s Alp Sentay at No. 5 singles for MSU’s only point in the match.
The Big Ten Tournament bracket was announced shortly thereafter. MSU was off to Lincoln to take on Iowa in the opening round.
The Spartans downed the Hawkeyes 4-2 on April 29. Iowa took the doubles point, but Michigan State won four of the singles matches to get the win. Freshmen Luke Baylis and Graydon Lair won No. 6 and No. 5 singles respectively to get MSU on the board. In his first Big Ten Tournament, redshirt sophomore Nick Williams also won his set to put MSU up 3-1. Iowa won the No. 2 court, but Mukherjee clinched the match at No. 3 singles to give MSU the 4-2 win and advance.
Yet another matchup on the season against Ohio State, this time ranked No. 7, followed on April 30. The Buckeyes swept the Spartans, 4-0, to end the season for Michigan State.
Following the season, MSU tennis assistant coach Harry Jadun was selected to participate in the ITA USTA College Coach Mentorship program. Jadun was one of 15 tennis coaches in the country who were selected.
Jadun is a former Spartan All-American and a native of East Lansing. 2021 marked his fourth season as a full-time member of the MSU men’s tennis staff under head coach Gene Orlando. You can find the full press release and biographical information on Jadun here.
Additionally, several men’s tennis players made the spring Academic All-Big Ten team, and made the Big Ten Distinguished Scholars list.