Down goes No. 1: UM's Styler springs upset to reach NCAA tennis semifinal

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan senior Ondrej Styler upset the nation’s top-ranked college tennis player to advance to the semifinals of the NCAA singles tournament.

Styler defeated Texas junior Eliot Spizzirri 6-3, 6-4 on Thursday at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, Florida, to become Michigan’s first singles semifinalist since Dan Goldberg in 1987.

Ondrej Styler is the first Michigan men's tennis player to reach the semifinals of the NCAA singles tournament since 1987.

For the first time since the NCAA switched to its current format of championships in 1977, Michigan had two players reach the singles quarterfinals, but Andrew Fenty fell to No. 2 Ethan Quinn from Georgia, 6-2, 6-4. In the doubles tournament, Fenty and Gavin Young advanced to the quarterfinals with a 7-5, 7-6 win on Thursday.

In the NCAA women’s singles tournament, Michigan's Kari Miller reached the quarterfinals before losing on Thursday to Fangran Tian of UCLA, 6-4, 6-1. Jaedan Brown and Miller were the second doubles team in program history to make the NCAA doubles quarterfinals, but their run ended Thursday against North Carolina, which won, 7-6, 6-7, 10-8. They finished their junior season 24-8.

Styler told reporters after his match how much it means to him to reach the semifinals.

“I wanted to, this season, to give it my best shot since it was going to be my last season in college tennis," Styler said. "To be in the Final Four, it's an unbelievable feeling. I definitely came here to just play great tennis, enjoy every single match without knowing how many matches I have to go. To be able to play four really good matches, and I think there's two to go if I want to win this tournament, it's an unreal opportunity for me.”

Styler will face Arizona State’s Murphy Cassone, who upset No. 3 Arthur Fery of Stanford, 7-6, 7-5, in a quarterfinal match.

To reach the semifinals, Styler, the Big Ten Player of the Year, had to get past Spizzirri, the Big 12 Player of the Year who beat Styler last fall, 7-5, 7-5, in the ITA All-American Championships.

“All the guys here are super competitive. The level is so, so high,” Styler said. “I went into the match like, I've got to enjoy every single point, I've got to stay mentally tough and focused, and just do my best and do whatever it takes to win. I managed to pull it off today. 

“Today especially, I stayed really calm throughout the big points. I think I won the mental battle of this tennis match. Sometimes it's not just about the forehand and backhand, it's also about the composure that you keep throughout a match. I think I was really, really strong in that and played really well in the big points.”

As he prepares for Friday's semifinal match, Styler said he won’t spend too much time scouting Cassone.

“Obviously, I'm going to look and see who I'm playing, maybe ask around a little bit,” he said. “My coaches probably know, but to me, every match is the same. I need to focus on my game. I need to focus on enjoying tennis and leaving it all out there. I know that if I do that, I'm capable of beating anyone.”

Styler was asked if he thinks about becoming a national champion.

“It's just one match at a time,” he said. “Tomorrow is another day. I'm going to do the same routine as I have been doing the whole week, I'm going to come prepared, and we'll see what happens.”

Twitter: @chengelis