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March 18, 2014 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 2014-03-18

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 7

Four years later: Shaun Bernstein's final run

Senior putting
final touches on
successful, but
injury-riddled
Michigan career
By DAVID MALINOWSKI
Daily Sports Writer
It was the end of practice at
the Baseline Tennis Center in
Minneapolis for the Michigan
men's tennis team as it was
making its first Big Ten road
trip of the season. With the
coach's echoes of "last two
points" billowing through the
courts, senior Shaun Bernstein
started his serving motion,
pulling his racket down and
tossing the furry yellow ball
high into the air.
Something didn't feel right.
Sharp pains like the prickles
of a cactus filled up Bernstein's
right shoulder and upper back
with a numbing sensation
tingling down the right side of
his body. As Bernstein went to
serve again, his arm refused
to obey the commands of his
brain, instead rebelling and
responding with more pain. It
was this moment that would
alter his career forever.
For as long as he can
remember, Bernstein has stared
his opponents down from
the other side of a mesh-knit
net. The court was a place of
enthralling battles, increased
heart rates, black marks from
tennis shoes and straegizing
where to hit his next shot.
At the age of 22, however, he
has come up against his biggest
opponent of all: reality.
Professional tennis is no
longer an option. The stout
Michigan captain of men's
tennis is now entering the
final stretch of his career, one
that was filled with adversity,
success, but one all too surreal
at certainpoints.
"It has served its purpose,"
Bernstein said, reflecting on
his tenure as the captain of the
Michigan men's tennis team. "It
has been an incredible run."
In an interviewwith the Daily
his freshman year, Bernstein
expressed optimism about
becoming a leader on and off the
court at the University. Now a
senior, he has spent three years
as a team captain, sacrificing
body and mind to ensure the
on-court success of the team.
As a promising recruit
four years ago, Bernstein has
gone through virtually every
ordeal in his four years at the
Michigan. He experienced
peaks and valleys to the tune of
balls popping off of dense nylon
strings, and he had some days,
both dark and light.
Bernstein, a former top-20
underage player in the United
States, has gone as far as
representing the United States
at the Junior Davis Cup. At the
age of 13, Bernstein traveled to
the Czech Republic with the
likes of Andy Roddick, Robby
Ginepri and up-and-coming
Ryan Harrison to carry the
American flag on the tennis

PAUL SHERMAN/Daily
Michigan senior Shaun Bernstein came to Ann Arbor as a prospect loaded with potential, but injuries have forced him to abandon his professional dreams.

court.
Considered a "can't miss"
prospect with so much room to
develop, Bernstein hasn't had
a standout record, amassing a
35-45 singles record and a 56-42
in doubles.
As one of the most well-
rounded individuals to walk
the Michigan tennis courts,
Bernstein's four years in Ann
Arbor will be full of misfortune
and hypotheticals.
Ask any athlete about his
upbringing and he or she will
give a long dissertation about
parents. Bernstein refused to
react differently.
Growing up on Long Island,
N.Y., tennis took up a large
majority of his life from a young
age. As early as middle school,
Bernstein was training six
days a week in gyms, on courts
and around town. His mother
managed to convince him to do
homework in the car rather than
staring blankly at the flowing
landscape outside the window.
Of course, the homework was
important, as the work ethic
that made Bernstein strive to be
a complete player also kept him
going in the classroom.
"She was incredible,"
Bernstein said of his mother.
"We would spend so much time
(together) growing up ... and
tennis is very significant with
the travel."
Driving from tournament
to tournament, up and down
the East Coast, did create its
opportunities for quality time
in the car, but also a debt of
appreciation.
"I will forever be extremely
grateful and indebted to (my
parents) that they sacrificed a
lot of time, money, emotional
engagement, helping me out
through the highs and the
lows," Bernstein said. "They
were everything to me."
Bernstein's birth parents

were not his onlyI
figures.
"Lawrence KlegerN
tennis parent growi
He knew me better
did," Bernstein said.
definitely a big influe
he helped me throug
tougher times growini
tennis."
As a
teenager,
Bernstein "L
underwent L
one of the most WO
difficult parts
of his career in it
converting to
a one-handed 0
backhand,
fundamentally
changing his
entire style of
play. The person who
him through the proc
none other than his ch
coach, Kleger.
"It really had
significant toll on m'
and those are some
darkest times in tennis,
back, but it definitely m
stronger mentally."
Getting him thro
rough times was one pa
superstition of tossing
into the air, aiming for
spins as if he were un
scrutiny of judges watch
"I used to flip my
lot, literally toss it up.
good at it, and I would
straight spins and cat
said. "People used to m
of me, but I wouldn't
to start the point unles
my head off of the mat
second."
Despite the super
Bernstein was legitimat
at tennis. From a you
everyone knew he had
high ceiling.
Playing tennis
healthy shoulders is li
racing against a Lambor
a bicycle. The odds of
are extremely low, a
rider is likely going to fa
severe pain in the proce
"My body hasn't hel
well as I would have
Bernstein said.
He spent the better
his collegiate career
alongside the standout
Evan King, and thes
injury loomed over a
win-loss total, forcing
play through the handic
"I played pretty m
entire Big Ten season
underhand," he said. "
understand that I was
for the team."
As the second
player, Bernstein refer
challenges the team
face had he been pull
the lineup by Michiga
Bruce Berque. Playing t
2012 season with a sh
seven man roster, eacl
would have had to m
spot and face a higher
competition, somethia
Bernstein, as a captal
feel comfortable thro

paternal his teammates.
Bernstein wound up missing
was my several matches due to the
ng up. injury anyway, and he posted
than I just an 8-20 record in singles
He was play that year. He and King
rce, and managed to pull things out in
h some 2012, salvaging a 22-13 doubles
g up in record.
"It was
tough to
swallow when
)oking back j I'd go out and
ok b k I lose doubles
uldn't change and then have
to go out and
. The team try to play
singles and
omes first." lose," he said.
"I lost a lot of
matches in a
row, and it was
tough because
pushed it felt like I was sacrificing my
ess was confidence (for the sake of the
ildhood team)."
Bernstein never pulled
a very himself from the lineup, only
y mind, coming out at the demands of
of my the coach. He and King would
looking go on to miss the individual
nade me NCAA Tournament.
Bernstein, despite the
gh the hardships, doesn't regret the
articular experience. While the pain
a racket in his shoulder had lingering
multiple effects, it helped cultivate a
ader the value of sacrifice, a concept that
ring. Bernstein is all too familiar with.
racket a It was the constant hampering
I got so of his body, the back injections
do three and the continuous pain without
h it," he rest. The physical pain was on
rake fun the surface, but stomaching his
be able emotions and leading the team
s I took is what mattered most.
ch for a "Looking back, I wouldn't
change it," he said. "The team
stitions, comes first."
ely good
ng age, ***
i a sky-
Tennis is an individual
sport. At the end of the day, the
difference between a win and
a loss can directly stem from a
without single player. Learning to play
ke drag on a team, in Bernstein's eyes,
-ghini in was a challenge that required
winning getting used to.
and the While Bernstein is
ace some getting ready to navigate the
ss. professional world like many
.d up as other student athletes before
liked," him, the skills that he gained
through his experiences will
part of prove invaluable.
playing "Learning through trial
stalwart and error how to try and help
shoulder motivate a group of guys who
blotchy are on different pages with
him to each other, with the coaches,
ap. has a bit of a learning curve,"
uch the he said. "Sometimes, as a leader,
serving you have to do stuff that you're
I had to uncomfortable doing, but that's
doing it the best for the team.
"Being an elected leader
singles of a team for three years is
s to the something I'll carry with me the
would rest of my life," said Bernstein
ed from As a captain, his best
n coach leadership quality is leading
he 2011- by example. Tennis is as
tortened much a chess match as it is
h player a fundamental game, and
ve up a Bernstein learned mental
level of discipline and leadership skills
ng that from an academy run by Jeff
n, didn't Janssen at the Janssen Sports
wing on Leadership Center.

Due to injury, Bernstein's
leadership took a turn from
leading by stellar play to
exemplifying a team-first
attitude through sacrifice.
With a healthier body this year,
however, Bernstein has some
work to do on the court.
The biggest challenge this
season for Bernstein as well as
the rest of the team has been
fillingthevoid leftby formerAll-
American King. King, one of the
best players in school history,
owns the program record for
most combined singles and
doubles wins at 196.
The son of a certified public
accountant who practices in
the New York area, Bernstein
enrolled in the Ross School of
Business to carry on the family
craft.
"Once tennis wasn't going to
work out after school, getting
a good education and being
in the Michigan network was
invaluable," he said. "Ultimately
the decision to come to
Michigan, which was the best
balance of academics and tennis,
had its biggest perks."
The 22-year-old senior
in the business school has a
concentration in finance, and
plans to practice commerce
after college, trading in his
athletic clothing and tennis
shoes for a suit, tie and a new
home in North Carolina.
But there are still three
months remaining in the tennis
season, and that is the only thing
that he's thinking about.
"We're doing our best this
vear (without King) to do

a better job of being more
competitive and push ourselves
always day to day," he said. "If
we could get a ring, we'd be
extremely, extremely proud of
what we accomplished."
He wants to be an All-
American, but his goals boil
down more to the health of the
team as well as himself.
"I love the sport now more
than ever," he said. "I love
competing."
In the back of his mind,
Bernstein knows what lies
ahead of him. As a kid who grew
up aspiring to go professional,
Bernstein will fall short of his
childhood dreams. Between his
body's wear and tear and injury
history, competitive tennis is no
longer an option. Instead, he has
endured the stress of a different
type of recruiting season, one
that involved dressing up in a
suit and tie and sending crisply
printed rdsumds to employers.
There wasn't much Bernstein
could control throughout his
collegiate tennis career. The
helpless feeling of losing match
after match and immolating an
asset in a big first serve was a
major battle.
"I would have liked to
stay healthy for longer," he
acknowledged, "but other than
that (I have) no regrets."
For now, Bernstein is racing
the clock. If only for alittle while,
Bernstein and the Wolverines
have a chance at completing a
successful season and qualifying
for national play. While the
window on playing competitive
tennis is going to be all but
closed within a few months,
perhaps Bernstein has found his
opportunity for cheating in his
match with reality.
If looking in a mirror every
morning with a suit on gets too
mundane, perhaps there is room
to return to a court within the
near future. Bernstein is a team-
first player, and he sees himself
as a potential asset to a college
program as a coach. However,
he's not readyto fully committo
that concept yet.
Through all of the pain,
sacrifice, deliberation and
conflict, Bernstein is ready to
move on. Tennis has given him
an avenue to grow as a person
in every category, through an
opportunity that very few have
the ability to experience. He is
thankful for his time at Michigan,
and while tennis is going to take
on a smaller role in his life after
graduation, the sport he loves and
the lessons it has taught him will
never leave him.
"Tennis will remain a small
part of my life as long as I'm
healthy enough to pick up a
racket."

Senior Shaun Bernstein has amassed a 35-45 singles record at Michigan.

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