Great Dane leads UNC tennis to sweep

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Esben Hess-Oleson, UNC’s top-seeded singles player, maks a return on Saturday.

Paving the way for the North Carolina men’s tennis squad’s 2-0 start to the season Saturday was a 22-year-old sophomore from Billund, Denmark, whose English is as fluent as his impressive backhand.

Esben Hess-Olesen — UNC’s No. 1 singles player and a member of the nation’s No. 44 doubles team with junior Nelson Vick — swept his competition Saturday, going undefeated on the day and helping guide the Tar Heels to consecutive victories.

“(Hess-Olesen) has been a huge factor in the team, his work ethic has been contagious, and he’s really led the way,” said UNC assistant coach Tripp Phllips, who helped recruit Hess-Olsen. “He’s really improved a lot, and he’s been a guy who’s done it the right way.

“He’s turned into a really good player, and it’s helped us as well because it kind of provides a blueprint for the other guys of what they need to do if they want to have success with their games as well,” he said.

The 6-foot-2 Dane has been preparing for the stiff competition of Division I tennis his entire life.
“Because Denmark is such a small country, I’ve always played a lot with older guys in tournaments,” he said. Hess-Olesen said he rarely played in juniors tournaments, preferring to play against adult competitors.

“I think it’s been good preparation for me,” he said.

“The competition is huge here, but it’s definitely different, because over here, I play so many guys my own age, and that’s kind of what I wanted to do. I feel like that’s where I want to compete. I want to compare myself with guys my own age and try to be the best.”

Coach Sam Paul praised the star’s effort.

“It’s great to have those types of players on your team because they do the extra things and the small things to make themselves be better and great players,” he said.

Hess-Olesen took advantage of a competitive environment growing up.

His twin brother, Soren Hess-Olesen, a sophomore at Texas, has also made a name for himself for the Longhorns after a lifetime of playing tennis overseas with his brother.

With little competitive college tennis in Denmark, both knew the United States would provide more opportunities for improvement. After contacting several schools, the recruitment process began — and finally split up the longtime doubles partners.

“We decided early on that we didn’t want to go to the same place because we felt like we wanted to go to different places and see how we developed if we were separated,” said Esben Hess-Olesen of his brother. “Looking back, I think it was a good decision tennis-wise because we’ve been a part of two different cultures.

“But I love this place. I love everything about it.”

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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