North Carolina men’s tennis coach Sam Paul wasn’t going to sugarcoat his team’s first defeat of the season.
“We played okay,” Paul said. “I’m not sure that we played great tennis, and I know that we could play a lot better.”
For No. 42 North Carolina, Sunday’s 4-2 road loss at No. 17 Duke in the finals of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Kickoff Weekend Event ended a five-game win streak for UNC.
Had the Tar Heels won on Sunday, they would have clinched their first-ever berth in the ITA National Team Indoor Championships in February.
North Carolina came into Saturday’s matchup having beaten all four of its opening weekend opponents, including rival East Carolina. The team carried that momentum into their first matchup with No. 50 San Diego State, walking away with a 4-1 win.
But the same could not be said for Sunday’s contest against Duke. After winning the doubles point to take an early 1-0 lead, the Tar Heels faltered.
“You have to give Duke credit, they played very well in singles,” Paul said. “We need to get better in big points.
“Overall we need to be sharper. We need to improve our shot selection.”
UNC, who led Duke heading into singles play, held tight to its lead for the first two singles matches, going up 2-1 at one point. But the Tar Heels quickly fell apart, losing three consecutive matches to give Duke the victory.
Although in a losing effort, Nelson Vick’s play was a positive for the Tar Heels this weekend. On Saturday against San Diego State, the senior co-captain won his singles match 6-1, 6-4 and had his doubles match suspended after UNC clinched the doubles point.
Vick also led UNC in scoring Sunday, winning his singles match against Duke’s Josh Levine — the only UNC player to do so. His doubles victory with partner Oystein Steiro also sealed the doubles point for North Carolina, giving them a head start in the contest.
“There’s going to be a momentum swing anytime you win a point, and that lets you know (your opponents) are beatable,” Vick said. “I had a tough loss last weekend, but I tried to take it in stride and improve on the little things before this weekend. I wasn’t able to finish, and I know that as a leader I need to be a reliable presence on the court.”
UNC won the overall doubles point in both of its matches this weekend but struggled in singles play on Sunday.
Freshman Ronnie Schneider, ranked No. 17 nationally, struggled against Duke’s Fred Saba, falling 6-4, 6-4 . Schneider acknowledged his performance on Sunday, but he was determined not to let the loss define his season.
“I played well against San Diego State, and obviously I didn’t against Duke,” Schneider said. “It’s disappointing because you never want to lose, especially to Duke, but this experience is going to be helpful in bigger and better matches later on in the season.”
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