By Foster Nicholas | Sports Writer
After qualifying for the ITA Indoor Championships this past Sunday, No. 11 Baylor men’s tennis is well rested, recovered and ready for its next big challenge against No. 4 University of Michigan.
Baylor (5-1) is in the middle of a brutal stretch of contests. Following a big 4-2 win against then-No. 9 Florida State University, the Bears will have four straight matches against top 20 teams, with three of them being in the top five. The Bears will then travel to Chicago for the ITA Indoor Championships and take on more top 25 opponents.
Michigan (6-0) is headed to the Hawkins Indoor Tennis Center to battle with the Bears at 6 p.m. on Friday night. Head coach Michael Woodson is excited for his group to test its skill set against one of the best in the nation.
“They’re definitely the most experienced team in the country, [and] they may be the best team in the country,” Woodson said. “We fully expect to have an opportunity in that match and give ourselves a chance to win, but with how big they play and how hard they defend and how loud they are, it’s going to be quite a challenge.”
After a stellar week from junior Tadeas Paroulek — the most recent Big 12 Player of the Week — and sophomore Marko Miladinović, the Bears believe they have something special brewing in Waco. Falling in a tough way to No. 1 University of Virginia early in the season also gave the squad a chance to see what it’s like to compete against one of the premier programs.
“I think we realized after the match in Virginia that we can compete with the best teams in the country and that we belong there,” Miladinović said. “The rankings are showing that Baylor is one of the most elite programs in the country, and in my opinion, [we’re] the most elite.”
Miladinović added that playing at Baylor comes with great expectations and a level of play that is only matched at other top-tier schools. However, he said everyone on the roster knows they belong and they love the high level of play they get to take part in each and every day.
“In the following weeks, we have I think seven or eight matches against top 15 teams in the country, so it’s a little bit odd, but that’s why we are here at Baylor,” Miladinović said. “We like to play tough and difficult matches, I think that we can get out of those matches in good shape. It’s still January; we have four months to prove [ourselves] and we’re just going to keep on working.”
Over 500 people cheered on the Bears last weekend at the Hawkins Indoor Tennis Center, a near record-setting crowd. With another prime match this week, Miladinović and Woodson want even more fans to help cheer on the green and gold against a loud Wolverines team that is currently rolling.
“It’s going to be a tough test for us,” Woodson said. “But, fortunately [for us], we’ve had some really tough matches already this year. So, the guys understand the level and what to expect. The fans can really look forward to a really premier match on Friday night.”