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De Bruycker’s third-set comeback clinches UNC victory

Photo: De Bruycker’s third-set comeback clinches UNC victory (Eliza Williams)

UNC’s Zoe De Bruycker fought tooth-and-nail Sunday against Clemson’s Jospia Bek in a thrilling three-set tiebreaker. De Bruycker’s win on Court No. 1 against the nation’s No. 10 player gave UNC its ninth ACC win.

Sophomore Zoe De Bruycker is developing into a role as the closer for the North Carolina women’s tennis team after a come-from-behind victory against a top-ten opponent on Sunday.

De Bruycker had a weekend to remember as the Tar Heels closed out the home portion of its schedule with two wins against top-15 ACC rivals Georgia Tech and Clemson at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center.

No. 3 North Carolina defeated No. 12 Georgia Tech, 5-2, on Saturday and held on to win a nail-biter, 4-3, against No. 11 Clemson on Sunday.

Acting as the Tar Heels’ closer, De Bruycker registered the game-sealing victory in both matches.

“I try not to focus on the score too much, but it is still in the back of my mind,” De Bruycker said. “I just try to keep fighting and give it my all on every point.”

No. 15 De Bruycker defeated No. 46 Jillian O’Neill, 6-4, 6-2 on Saturday to clinch an easy victory against Georgia Tech. But her victory against No. 10 Josipa Bek, 6-1, 5-7, 7-6 (8-6) in a marathon match that lasted almost three hours was a true test for UNC’s top player.

“We always have really good matches against each other so I was prepared for a grind,” De Bruycker said. “I knew I had to play tough if I wanted to win.”

De Bruycker has faced Bek two previous times, with Bek taking the first match in three sets and De Bruycker taking the second match in straight sets at the ITA Carolina Indoor Regional final.

The rubber match featured two top-15 players who were each coming into the match with a lot of momentum. Bek had won eight of her previous nine matches, while De Bruycker had won three straight matches against ranked opponents.

“In the third (set) we were both pretty tired, but I just knew I had to outlast her,” De Bruycker said. “I had to win it for Jelena.”

De Bruycker said that her primary motivation in the match was to get a victory for the Tar Heels’ lone senior, Jelena Durisic, on her senior day.

De Bruycker started off strong, taking the first set 6-1 behind an overpowering forehand that she consistently used to hit winners. But Bek answered in the second set and was able to capitalize on a number of unforced errors by De Bruycker.

“Zoe is mentally tough and physically strong and she has been in these types of matches before,” UNC coach Brian Kalbas said.

In the third set, Bek had a chance to serve for the match twice, up 5-4 and up 6-5, but De Bruycker managed to break her both times to prolong the match.

De Bruycker fell behind early in the tiebreak as well, but she clawed her way back and got the victory on a double fault by Bek.

“Her perseverance and her willingness to stay out there and do whatever it takes, even some points that were 30 or 40 balls long, just says so much about her,” Kalbas said.

“It was a back-and-forth battle of nerves in the third set, who is going to hold their head and be more solid, and you just have to give Zoe all of the credit.”

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