After falling short a week ago at the ITA All-American Championship’s singles draw, junior North Carolina men’s tennis player Ebsen Hess-Olesen was eager to make his return to the court.
Hess-Olesen, who received an automatic bid to play in the main draw at the tournament in Tulsa, lost in the first round to Baylor’s Julian Lenz 7-6(4), 7-5. But despite losing that match, which was his first of the season, the junior went into this weekend’s Wake Forest Invitational feeling confident about his game.
“I was injured and having problems with my back for a while, so all things considered, I think I had a good tournament (last week),” Hess-Olesen said. “It was hard to have big expectations going in, but it was certainly good practice and I felt good about the way I was playing.
“I felt loose from the start and I wasn’t nervous. I try not to let the pressure get to me, I don’t want it to impact my game.”
Hess-Olesen and his partner, sophomore Brett Clark, started out the weekend by defeating Stetson’s doubles pair 8-1 in the first round of the A doubles draw. The duo continued their success against Duke and UNC-Greensboro in the next two rounds, winning 8-6 and 8-3, respectively.
Then, in Sunday’s finals, Hess-Olesen and Clark beat Liberty’s Jorge Azuero and Shea Thomas 8-6 to win the A doubles draw. The victory gave Clark his first collegiate tournament victory.
“We got up early in a few of our matches and ended up blowing those leads, but we did a good job of finishing in the end,” Clark said. “Obviously your first college win is very exciting.”
For coach Sam Paul, his team’s early success this season has been a result of the hard work the team put in during the summer and fall. Coming off a successful campaign last year, during which the Tar Heels advanced to the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament and Hess-Olesen received a bid to the NCAA Tournament, Paul stressed fitness and conditioning as a way to continue improving.
“All of our guys went out and played over the summer, and that work has been reflected by (the team’s) performance on the court,” Paul said. “They all lifted weights, they ran, they got themselves into better shape so they could succeed during the year.”
Clark echoed his coach’s sentiment, noting how his improved fitness has allowed him to improve mentally.
“When it gets late in the third set, you know you won’t wear down physically,” he said. “If the other guy looks tired, then it gives you an advantage mentally because you can continue to play your style of play.”
In addition to his doubles win, Clark and senior Nelson Vick both advanced to the finals of the A2 singles draw. However, due to inclement weather, the finals match between the two was cancelled.
Ultimately, the Tar Heels, who aim to win the ACC and go deep into the NCAA tournament this spring, saw the weekend as a success. And though Paul was pleased with the team’s play at the Wake Forest Invitational, he knows that his players must continue to improve if they hope to do well on the national stage.
“We still have a lot of work left to do because we want to be playing our best tennis in the spring, when the NCAA and ACC tournaments come around,” he said.
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