Tiebreakers gave the No. 1 North Carolina men’s tennis team life on Friday. They crushed its spirits on Sunday.
The Tar Heels faced five tiebreakers on their way to defeating No. 3 Virginia 4-3 on Friday and losing 4-3 to No. 6 Wake Forest Sunday at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center in Chapel Hill.
On Friday against Virginia (16-3, 6-1 ACC), the Tar Heels (21-2, 6-2 ACC) quickly lost a doubles match and fell behind 6-5 on both remaining courts, but bounced back to claim wins, each being decided in a tiebreaker. The tandem of sophomore Robert Kelly and senior Brett Clark — ranked No. 3 nationally — claimed the first team point for the Tar Heels in dramatic fashion, winning their tiebreaker 8-6.
“Looking at (Clark) and seeing how calm he was, that really helped me just because he’s been there a bunch of times and that really helped me settle down and know that he knows what he’s doing,” Kelly said. “Hopefully I can piggyback off that.”
Junior Brayden Schnur said he drew energy from the Tar Heels’ victory in doubles.
“The doubles point was huge,” he said. “I can’t remember the last time we’d won a doubles point against them. That was a huge momentum swing to kind of take that one from them.”
The Tar Heels again needed a tiebreaker to earn their fourth team point and win the match.
Schnur found himself locked in a three-set thriller with the defending singles national champion — Virginia’s No. 8 Ryan Shane. The two continued their battle into the tiebreaker before Shane’s volley went long.
“I took it to him and made him play a lot of balls,” Schnur said. “I played my game in that breaker.”
North Carolina coach Sam Paul said the whole match was played at a high level, but he liked how Schnur responded to adversity.
“He’s a game day guy,” Paul said. “On big occasions in big days, he’s just there. He’s done it his whole career. He loves the moment and loves this environment and loves the bigger crowds so I’m just really happy for him.”
North Carolina again had luck with tiebreakers early on Sunday against Wake Forest (24-4, 8-1).
After winning the doubles point, the Tar Heels looked well on their way to a seventh consecutive victory. They won five of six first sets against the Demon Deacons, one coming on a 7-4 decision for Kelly in a tiebreaker.
But the Demon Deacons rebounded to force three matches to third sets. There, the drama unfolded.
Juniors Jack Murray and Ronnie Schneider won their first sets but could not maintain their pace, as they dropped their remaining two.
With the match tied at three and the Tar Heels needing Kelly to pull out a victory to secure the win, it’s only fitting it came down to a tiebreaker.
But Wake Forest almost didn’t need it. Kelly had to win three straight points just to force the tiebreaker. After fighting off another two match points in the tiebreaker, Kelly succumbed to Wake Forest’s Romain Bogaerts, giving the fourth and final team point to Wake Forest.
“We’ll bounce back as a team, and at the end of the day, it wasn’t just me who lost,” Kelly said. “I should have had my teammate’s backs.”
Despite the loss, Paul was proud of his team’s toughness in playing two top-10 teams in one weekend and winning four of five tiebreakers.
“I think the kids will learn from it,” Paul said. “We’ll come back and get hungry. We’ve done it all year. We’ve just got to keep playing complete matches.”
Schnur said the team will be better after learning from the results this weekend.
“One person can’t win it all,” Schnur said. “We won some matches today and it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to but we’re going to fight as a team. That’s what we are going to do and we’ve always done that for the three years I’ve been here.”
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