Esben Hess-Olesen can book a flight to the Big Apple.
With a 6-2, 7-5 victory in the USTA/ITA Carolinas Regional final on Monday, the UNC sophomore earned a spot in next month’s USTA/ITA National Indoor Championships in Flushing, N.Y.
The ninth-seeded Denmark native upset No. 2 seed Chris Mengel of Duke 7-6 (5), 6-2 in Sunday’s semifinal to reach Monday’s championship match in Cary.
“I always expect to win when I go on the court, but to win the whole tournament feels really great because it means I beat a lot of good players and I put myself in a good spot for the spring season,” Hess-Olesen said. “It was probably the best win of my career.”
Hess-Olesen will spend the next two weeks preparing for the National Indoor Championships, which will cap off the fall season.
“Esben knows he can play with anyone in the country, so we look forward to the competition in New York,” coach Sam Paul said. “I’m excited about his game and where he can go with his game.”
Hess-Olesen was not the only Tar Heel to perform well at the Carolinas Regional. Four UNC men advanced to the Round of 16 in singles, while the UNC women placed four singles players in the quarterfinals and two doubles teams in the semifinals.
The Tar Heel women started the tournament with a bang, going unbeaten on the first day of play without dropping a set. The highlight of the day was freshman Ashley Dai’s 6-4, 6-2 upset of top-seeded Joelle Kissell of N.C. State.
But as the tournament unfolded, senior Zoe de Bruycker emerged as the Tar Heels’ title contender.
De Bruycker advanced to the championship match but fell short against third-seeded Hanna Mar of Duke, 6-1, 6-3.
Coach Brian Kalbas and de Bruycker both said the match was much closer than the score indicated. The contest lasted more than two hours, with plenty of long points and hard-fought games. But de Bruycker couldn’t win enough points when it mattered most.
“Zoe had a lot of chances,” Kalbas said. “The match looked like it could go either way at certain points. Unfortunately, Zoe ran into a player from Duke that was playing really well.”
In her previous match, de Bruycker faced a different type of challenge — the psychological test of playing her own teammate. De Bruycker squared off against UNC freshman Whitney Kay, who won four matches in straight sets on her way to the semifinals. The senior got the upper hand, besting Kay 6-2, 6-2 to advance to the final.
“It was definitely a little difficult and awkward, but I felt pretty relaxed knowing that either way one of us would be in the final,” de Bruycker said. “I tried to focus more on myself and my own game rather than thinking about who I was playing.”
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