Juniors Joey Burkhardt and Cameron Ahari, fourth and sixth in the singles ladder respectively, failed to win third-set tiebreakers after splitting the first two sets with their opponents. Sophomore William Parker lost the first set in a tiebreaker and dropped his final service game in the second set to lose the match.
Coach Sam Paul said it’s crucial for every player to win his match, even though UNC clinched the win while the bottom three were still playing.
“It’s nice to get the win early, for the match to be done,” Paul said. “But you’ve got to keep your foot on the gas and work and play your match and get better.
“I don’t know if they relaxed or whatever but you’ve got to feel that tension of ‘I’m trying to do the best I can and win my match.’”
Hernandez led the team with a quick 6-1 dismantling of opponent Dominic Hodgson in the first set. The Tar Heels’ top singles player frustrated an overly aggressive Hodgson with consistent play from the baseline.
Hodgson was trying to clip the lines and blast shots deep from the first point, but Hernandez, ranked No. 35 in the nation in singles, patiently returned balls to the offensive-minded Hodgson until he got a weak return he was able to finish at the net.
Hodgson’s risky play also led to unforced errors that gave Hernandez easy points.
“He wasn’t slicing the ball as much. He was just playing his game, which is convenient for me,” Hernandez said. “I was executing my forehand to his backhand and then trying to get to the net.”
But Hernandez’s conservative play wasn’t as effective in the second set. Hodgson came out with a more defensive mindset, lengthening points and forcing Hernandez to move off the baseline and go for lower-percentage winners in the short court.
“In the second set he started to play a different style of game. He made me uncomfortable,” Hernandez said. “He changed his playing; he was trying to slice more, trying to make me come to the net — I don’t like that game that much.”
Hernandez fell behind 2-0 early in the second set but was able to match Hodgson shot for shot and outlast the Wolfpack’s top singles player to take the set 6-4. Hernandez’s all-encompassing game was on display, as he was able to get the job done when Hodgson lured him to the net or when Hodgson wanted to swing it out from the baseline.
Paul said this type of high-level competition is only going to continue as UNC takes on the rest of its ACC schedule.
“We want to do well in our league (ACC) because we know it’s tough,” Paul said. “All the teams in the league are underranked … there’s going to be a war in every match.
“We’ve got ten more to go. So, that’s what we’re telling our guys — you’ve got to get ready.”
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