While the rest of the Tar Heels hardly broke a sweat in defeating East Carolina and Longwood on Friday at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center, UNC’s top doubles pair struggled.
Junior Brett Clark and sophomore Brayden Schnur dropped their doubles match 4-6 to ECU on Friday afternoon and looked out of sync again that evening in an unfinished match against Longwood. And though they won their match 6-4 on Monday against UT-Chattanooga, they found themselves with their hands full against the scrappy Tennessee tandem .
Of course, neither outcome mattered Friday: the other two Tar Heel doubles teams won to secure the best-of-three contest. But a victory on Court 1 will be crucial against tougher opponents, as the team who wins the doubles point takes the momentum into the singles matches. Nevertheless, both Clark and Schnur shrugged off their slow start to the spring season.
“I’m not really worried,” Clark said after the courts had cleared. “It’s real early in the season. We played together last year and we struggled a little bit at the beginning of the season, too. It’s just a matter of us getting back into the groove.”
Schnur, the reigning USTA/ITA National Indoor Singles Champion, also stressed that the star duo is just working out early-season kinks..
“I just think it’s the beginning of the year,” he said. “Obviously, we need to improve a few things, but our opponents were playing well. We’ll come back out here tomorrow and get some practice in.”
Coach Sam Paul, too, seemed unconcerned. When asked if Clark and Schnur’s sluggish play worried him, he was nonchalant.
“Nah, those guys will be fine,” he said.
Paul may be right, but then again, ECU and Longwood were playing under the new rules for the first time, too. They came out aggressive while the Tar Heels appeared flat.
And the fact remains that Schnur is the second-ranked singles player in the nation and Clark holds the UNC record for most singles wins in a season. In other words, they are far more talented individually than their opponents from ECU and Longwood.
Of course, singles talent doesn’t immediately translate to success on the doubles court. It takes time to develop the chemistry necessary to play into a partner’s strengths. And Clark acknowledged that it’s been a while since he and Schnur played a match together.
But to UNC’s advantage, Clark and Schnur have demonstrated before that they can dominate on the doubles court just as they often do on the singles court. Last spring, the pair posted a 18-5 dual match doubles record. They advanced to the semifinals in the only tournament they played together this fall.
Now, the trick is whether or not they can do it again.