After opening the season with five consecutive shutouts, the North Carolina men’s tennis team defeated Notre Dame on Friday to start the ITA Kick-off Weekend.
The Tar Heels were met with a strong challenge from the beginning, as the Fighting Irish fought hard in doubles play. Sophomores Anu Kodali and Blaine Boyden struggled against Notre Dame first-year Ryan Kempin and sophomore Grayson Broadus, falling behind 5-1. The Tar Heel duo’s attempt to make a comeback came up short, as Kempin and Broadus defeated them 6-4.
Seniors Ronnie Schneider and Jack Murray narrowly claimed a 6-4 victory over the Fighting Irish pair of first-year Matt Gamble and sophomore Alex Lebedev. The Tar Heels' last pairing of junior Robert Kelly and star recruit William Blumberg proved to have the toughest doubles match of the day. Fighting Irish seniors Eddy Covalschi and Josh Hagar consistently pressure the two, but the Tar Heel pair defeated the Fighting Irish 7-5, allowing North Carolina to take an early 1-0 lead.
Who stood out?
Kelly and Blumberg proved to be not only efficient as a team, but in singles play as well.
Kelly stayed ahead of his opponent, Matthew Gamble, and bested him 6-3 in both sets. Blumberg also played strong throughout the day and was able to shut out his opponent, Edward Covalschi, in the first frame of his singles match. However, Blumberg and the rest of the Tar Heels would have to find a way to outlast the Fighting Irish in the closing stages of the game.
When was it decided?
Kelly was able to obtain an easy win in his singles match, but the rest of the team was not quite as fortunate. After a stellar first set, Blumberg struggled in the second, where he lost 6-3 — kickstarting a potential comeback for Notre Dame.
Jack Murray played a key role in holding the Fighting Irish off, as he defeated Grayson Broadus in two sets, edging the Tar Heels ahead 3-0. While Blumberg and the rest of the remaining Tar Heels were facing difficult battles, the outcome of the game ultimately rested on the matchup between two of the best players in the country — Ronnie Schneider and Josh Hagar.
Both athletes fought vigorously, but Schneider took advantage of a bad serve by Hagar and sealed the victory for the Tar Heels in two frames.
Why does it matter?
Although Notre Dame was unranked entering the weekend, the team proved to be North Carolina’s toughest test of the season. Head coach Sam Paul noted the resiliency of the Fighting Irish and said they lured the Tar Heels into a false sense of security, but he was also proud of how his team handled itself even as Notre Dame added pressure. Paul intends to focus on improving the team’s concentration and discipline as the season progresses.
Where do they play next?
With the victory over Notre Dame, North Carolina will continue the ITA Kick-off Weekend at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday in the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center. The Tar Heels will face off against Vanderbilt, who is riding momentum after defeating Penn State, 4-1, on Friday afternoon.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.