After losing the doubles point, the Tar Heels and Sooners traded four singles matches in straight sets, giving Oklahoma a 3-2 lead with only Kelly and Clark still fending off the Sooners’ clinching point.
Fortified by a boisterous crowd at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center, Kelly secured the first set 7-5, fighting back from an early 2-0 deficit on Court No. 5.
The sophomore dropped the second set 6-4 but quickly found his form, breaking Oklahoma’s Maxime Mora and holding serve in the final game to claim a 6-3 victory to even the score for the Tar Heels.
Kelly noticed the crowd pouring over to his side late in the match, pushing him on.
“You kind of feel the crowd and feel the people come over on this side,” he said. “And it just hypes you up more.”
Two courts over, Clark — Kelly’s doubles partner — was serving on Court No. 3, leading 5-4 in the second set with a victory in his sights.
Clark was instead broken, losing the second set and forcing a decisive third set.
“I wavered from my gameplan when I was serving for the match,” he said. “It was really on me.”
But Clark did not dwell on his missed opportunity — jumping out to a 3-0 lead before cruising to a 6-2 third set victory, securing the 4-3 win for UNC.
Clark’s match was the last to finish, bringing the entire crowd to his side for the match’s final set.
“It’s so much fun playing at home, being in front of our home crowd,” he said.
“We use it as much as we can, we get everything out of it, and that’s what it took to beat a great team like Oklahoma.”
The crowd — which fueled the Tar Heels with chants of ‘Ole’ — even drew the attention of Coach Sam Paul.
“We’re getting great crowds - best crowds we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Paul, who is in his 22nd year as the Tar Heels’ head coach.
With the win, the Tar Heels advance to 6-0, tied for the program’s best start since 2007 — when the team started 20-0.
But while Paul is excited about the impressive start, he knows the importance of avoiding complacency.
“It’s a long year. Our focus is to get better into May,” he said.
“We want to be playing our best tennis when May gets here, but we’re learning more about our team every day.”