The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday June 4th

Robert Kelly improves to 6-1 in singles in win over N.C. Central

North Carolina freshman men's tennis player Robert Kelly flashed a wry smile — barely perceptible — as he turned and strolled back to the baseline. His opponent, North Carolina Central’s Jamal Hoyte, had just unleashed a forehand winner, a fist pump and a guttural scream.

On the next point Hoyte attacked the net, sensing a chance to reverse the match’s momentum. Kelly didn’t flinch. He floated a lob over Hoyte’s head, landing it inches inside the baseline and outside of Hoyte’s reach.

Kelly went on to win the next three points, and the match, improving his 2015 singles record to 6-1 and helping No. 7 UNC sweep Campbell and N.C. Central in Wednesday night’s doubleheader. The freshman has burst onto the scene for the Tar Heels this winter, demonstrating the composure and self-assuredness of a veteran.

“It’s very impressive for a freshman to come in and play on any team, especially one that’s ranked in the Top 10,” said Kelly’s doubles partner Brett Clark. “He’s extremely talented, and it’s really fun to play doubles with him.”

Between points Wednesday, Kelly kept cool while the senior Hoyte huffed, puffed and chided himself. At one instance, Kelly stood on the baseline, casually bouncing the ball while he waited for Hoyte to collect himself on the bench and return to the court to receive Kelly’s serve.

A scrawny freshman playing in his 19th career singles match, Kelly could have easily been intimidated by the senior Hoyte’s bulk and power. But it was Kelly who appeared more experienced, brushing off all of Hoyte’s attempts to fluster him.

“The coaches push you every day, but they also make you feel really confident in yourself,” Kelly said. “I feel really comfortable just going for it.”

During Saturday’s down-to-the-wire loss at No. 5 Illinois, UNC’s first defeat of the spring season, Kelly walked off the court with a win, and his coaches walked away impressed.

“It was a pretty big stage to play on at Illinois — hostile crowd, about a thousand folks cheering against us,” Coach Sam Paul said. “And he handled it really well.”

After shaking Hoyte’s hand Wednesday night, Kelly slung his racket bag over his shoulder, flashed a quick thumbs-up to a ball boy and strolled off the court.

Minutes later, he was standing in front of a recorder when a teammate surprised him with a bear hug. Kelly was in the middle of a sentence, but he brushed it off just as coolly as he did his opponent on the tennis court.

“Being a freshman,” Kelly began before being interrupted, “you get a lot of stuff like that.” 

And he flashed another wry smile.

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