“Obviously, I don’t think I could predict the success we’ve had so far, but I thought we’d be a good team,” Clark said.
Their teammates, who have been playing against them at practice since last spring, are not surprised by the success the two have had.
“Even before they were number one in the country, like last year, me and Ronnie (Schneider) played them all the time in practice, and they would beat us up pretty big,” said junior Jack Murray. “When they started having all this success it wasn’t really surprising.”
‘Just be yourself’
Their off-court friendship was as instantaneous as their on-court success. Clark’s personality has had a significant impact on both.
“Brett is a low-key guy, kind of quiet, a little shy. So it’s easy because you can just be yourself,” Kelly said.
Clark’s personality and established track record on the court quickly earned Kelly’s respect during his first year on the team.
“He kind of knew how to do things, and he would let me know what I was doing wrong, and what I was doing right,” Kelly said. “I respected him enough to take the advice, and know that he knows what he’s talking about.”
Clark knows what he is talking about. He has won 95 singles matches and 86 doubles matches in his career. With all of that match experience, it is no wonder that Clark is looked to as a leader on the team.
“He’s been there for us. He’s won 100-plus matches,” said Coach Sam Paul. “What a tremendous career he’s had, and been a great representative off the court as well.”
Even though they have both had successful careers at UNC, the paths that led them to the University could not be more different.
‘On your own’
There is a joke on the team that Kelly “doesn’t know where he’s from, and can change it day by day.”
That’s because he has born in Prague, moved to France when he was two and moved to Chapel Hill when he was 12.
As a child in France, Kelly played tennis, soccer and rugby. His father, Robert Kelly Sr., who played four years of soccer at UNC, was thrilled that his son was interested in the sport he loved so much.
The day his son told him he was going to drop soccer, and focus on tennis, was a very tough day for Robert Kelly Sr.
“I almost burst into tears because I always kind of assumed he would drop the tennis and go with the soccer,” he said. “We kind of had that in common. When he dropped the soccer it just kind of took away something that was a real kind of bond between us.”
Kelly Sr. said he is happy his son is playing tennis at his alma mater and says the move from France to Chapel Hill played a role in his son’s interest in tennis.
“For the first couple of years, he was always referred to as the French kid, or the kid with the accent. It kind of makes you rely more on yourself,” he said. “That might have kicked on why he preferred tennis over soccer. As a tennis player you’re more on your own. You control more of your own environment.”
At the age of three, Clark was following his mother Stacy around the courts at her United States Tennis Association events.
“She put a racket in my hand, I took some lessons, started playing, and it’s been my passion ever since,” Clark said.
He made the decision to focus on tennis at a young age, a few years younger than Kelly when he made his choice.
When it came time for him to make his decision on where to go to college, he had one major requirement.
“Being from Florida, I really just wanted to get out of the state. It was hot, and I didn’t want to spend four years in the heat,” he said.
The decision came down to two schools — North Carolina or Notre Dame. He said he has never doubted his choice.
For Stacy, her son’s decision came as a shock to her because of her family ties to Notre Dame.
“He was always such a Notre Dame football fan growing up,” she said. “I probably took for granted that if he got the opportunity to go there, he would go there.”
As for Clark’s love for Notre Dame football, the outcome of the games still matters to him.
“His weekend will literally be ruined if Notre Dame loses,” Kelly said. “Last year, Notre Dame lost to Clemson, and he wouldn’t talk for two days.”
‘Just another match’
Even with the pressures that come with their top-five ranking, the duo remains calm and composed on the court. They enjoy their top ranking, and have fun going out every week to defend it.
That’s not going to change, even with No. 7 Wake Forest and a rematch against No. 2 Virginia coming up on the schedule.
“We know it’s there, but we’ve played tennis for long enough to know that it’s just another match,” Kelly said. “We enjoy a challenge, we enjoy competing, enjoy being out there and having fun.
“A lot of the pressure is taken off when we realize we’re just out there having fun.”