Maybe it was the week of preparation. Maybe it was the victory against a higher-ranked opponent. Or maybe even the atmosphere of a packed Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center.
Whatever it was, something had the North Carolina men’s tennis players giving nothing but compliments to each other.
Coming off a disappointing loss to Duke, the Tar Heels upset 19th-ranked Illinois 5-2 in Chapel Hill on Saturday.
Coach Sam Paul said after the win that he was proud of his team.
“Obviously, a really good win for us against a really strong Illinois team,” Paul said.
“I’m very happy. I’m just really proud of the guys, how hard they fought. Total team effort. This is a great group of guys to be around. These guys will lift your spirits every single day.”
To start off the day, freshman Brayden Schnur and sophomore Brett Clark, playing in the No. 1 doubles position, lost to the fourth-ranked Illinois doubles team 6-1.
But freshman tandem Jack Murray and Ronnie Schneider claimed a 6-2 victory against the Fighting Illini, while junior Esben Hess-Olesen and senior Nelson Vick won the doubles point for the Tar Heels with a 6-4 win.
Murray then got a quick victory at the No. 4 singles position 6-2, 6-2, putting the Tar Heels ahead 2-0 early.
Brett Clark lost 6-5 (7-0), 6-2 at the No. 3 singles spot.
But the highlight of the match came when a fired-up Schnur beat Illinois’ Jared Hiltzik, the No. 4 doubles player in the country, 6-5 (7-5), 6-4.
Schnur said that he was prepared for the match despite being overmatched on paper.
“I kind of expect these results of myself, playing the way I do,” he said.
“I knew I had the home-court advantage and I just needed to play my game. But it feels pretty good.”
Schneider then clinched the match, coming back from a set down, 6-5 (7-5), 6-2, 6-2.
Paul commended Schnur for his singles victory. After playing professionally last fall, the freshman phenom arrived to Chapel Hill Dec. 31 and already has five singles wins as a Tar Heel.
“(Schnur) is a warrior,” Paul said.
“You know, the one thing I have been really impressed with Brayden is that he is a true competitor. He loves the heat of the battle, and he is a warrior. I am just really happy with him.”
Murray, who ended the match with both a singles and a doubles win, credited his success to close-knit chemistry of the team.
“These coaches have done such a great job with me, and I just knew that, their advice, if I just kept doing it, I would be fine,” Murray said.
“I think we all learned so much from the upperclassmen in the fall. They kind of showed us college tennis and hopefully we were able to showcase what they taught us today.”
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