The top-five matchup was grueling from the get-go.
The No. 5 North Carolina men’s tennis team suffered its first ACC loss of the season to No. 1 Wake Forest on Wednesday. Despite the large, rambunctious crowd that usually gives the team an extra edge, the Tar Heels (13-4, 4-1 ACC) fell 4-3 to the Deacons (15-1, 4-1 ACC).
"Congratulations to Wake," head coach Sam Paul said after the match. "I knew our guys wouldn't quit and it comes down to the last match, and there we go … a couple points here and there.”
UNC first ran into trouble during the doubles point. The first loss came from Court Three, where duo first-year Mac Kiger and sophomore Simon Soendergaard dropped their set 6-3. Court Two followed closely behind as the new doubles team, first-year Ben Sigouin and junior Blaine Boyden, lost 6-4.
“I was nervous to start,” Boyden said. “I haven’t been playing doubles, honestly.
“I think we did pretty well. We let a couple points go, and I think that was a difference. A couple points here and there, but the doubles point is completely different... The more we play with each other, the more comfortable we will get.”
Although the doubles point can make or break a team at times, the dropped point didn’t discourage UNC from its goal for the day — upsetting top-ranked Wake Forest. Despite not accomplishing the objective, a few players had notable performances.
“(Boyden)’s a workhorse,” Paul said. “That kid is amazing. He’s the first guy here at the morning workouts every single day at 8 a.m. He’s just here, ready to go to work.”
Boyden is a recent addition to the doubles line-up, and while the team lost the doubles point, his and Sigouin's potential as a pair shone through the loss.
“Bo is awesome,” Sigouin said. “He’s helped me a lot this year, especially with it being my first semester here. He’s been unreal for me, and a huge leader for our team.”
The singles lineup for Wednesday’s matchup was identical to the doubles teams, leaving room for redemption after a dropped doubles point. However, this hope was rattled when senior Robert Kelly fell 6-4, 6-4. Looking on from a neighboring court, the quick loss on Court Four didn’t affect Boyden on Court Five, as he refocused for his singles match, winning 6-2, 6-2.
“Coach Paul does a really good job just getting everyone ready to go,” Boyden said. “Obviously, the doubles point was tough to lose, but it’s a long match. You just kind of got to sit down and focus on your own match.
“He went over a game plan before my match, got me ready to go, and I just dialed in, focused on myself at that point.”
Despite Boyden’s win, the Tar Heels quickly fell 3-1 as Sigouin dropped his match in straight sets, 7-5, 6-3. At that point, in order for a victory, the remaining Tar Heels needed to win. UNC quickly claimed the next two points, tying the overall game 3-3, when No. 2 sophomore William Blumberg and Kiger each won their courts by the same score: 6-4, 7-5.
It came down to Court Three — Simon Soendergaard. He'd won the first set 6-1, but dropped the second 7-5. As he headed into the third set, the playing field was even, as players exchanged points one after another. His frustration started sneaking into his play, ultimately causing him to fall to a 5-3 deficit.
“All you Si',” associate head coach Tripp Phillips said. “Heart and soul.”
Soendergaard fought, but he couldn’t rally. The Denmark native fell in the third set 6-3, effectively closing the book on UNC’s first ACC loss. While it wasn’t the outcome the team expected, the Tar Heels have their eyes set on redemption — a goal they've had all season.
UNC fell to Virginia 4-2 in the NCAA Championship Final last year, and this season, the Tar Heels’ goal is to go back and win. Losing to Wake Forest doesn’t change this dream.
“They outplayed us in a couple of spots, but I think we learned a lot today about our team,” Paul said. “I told our team, 'The prize is in May.'