If Big Ten men’s tennis had a comeback player of the year award, Nebraska’s Chris Dean would have to be a prime candidate for it this spring.
The former Papillion-La Vista South state champion and Husker sophomore improved to 12-6 overall in singles and 3-3 in Big Ten play with his 6-4, 7-6 (4) win at No. 6 over Indiana’s Andrew Redding at Dillon Tennis Center on Sunday.
A year ago as a freshman, Dean finished 0-20 and 0-10 in the Big Ten in a season he admits he’d “just as soon forget."
“It was brutal,” Dean said. “I tried to look at it as a lesson learned and not dwell on it. If you let it get to you, you’ll never win.”
Dean suffered a concussion in a car accident over Christmas break a year ago and was cleared by doctors to return to the courts just days before the Huskers’ opening match of the spring season.
“In hindsight, I came back too early. I needed more practice time before playing my first match,” Dean said. “I lost some tough matches early (in the season), it destroyed my confidence and it went downhill from there.
“Last year I would’ve been the first one done today and it would’ve been ugly, a 6-1, 6-1 loss or something like that,” Dean added. “That’s how much better I’m playing now.”
Dean said he took a month off from tennis after the season ended last April “just to clear my mind and start fresh. I had a good summer and fall, and I’ve just built off that this spring.”
Dean was serving for the match ahead 5-4 in the second set but was broken. He recovered to get it into a tiebreaker, then took control with five straight points to go up 6-2. Redding saved two match points before he had a forehand hit the net and go wide to end it.
“I got a little nervous there at the end, but I stayed with my game plan of being patient and waiting for my opportunities to go for my shots and come in (into the net),” Dean said. “It’s a strategy that’s worked pretty well all year.”
Despite Dean’s win, NU lost to the No. 48 Hoosiers 4-3 to drop to 10-12 overall and 0-9 in league play. The Huskers managed to win three singles matches after dropping the double point. Toby Boyer outlasted Indiana’s Raheel Manji (ranked No. 116 nationally) 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 at No. 1, while teammate Linus Erhart took out Antonio Cembellin 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 at No. 2.
Indiana clinched the dual with Keivon Tabrizi’s 6-2, 4-6 6-0 win over NU’s Dylan Bednarczyk at No. 3.
“We felt coming in that the way we matched up in singles, if we played well, we could win it 4-3,” NU coach Kerry McDermott said. “We’ve been right there with everyone we’ve played in the Big Ten except for Ohio State and Illinois. We had opportunities again today, but Indiana played a little tougher on the big points than we did.”
NU closes out its home schedule against Drake on Wednesday with first serve at 4 p.m.