The No. 7 North Carolina men's tennis team traveled to Champaign, Ill., on Saturday, and earned a 5-2 victory over No. 17 Illinois in the team’s first road match of the spring.
The Tar Heels (8-0) made quick work of the Illini (2-2) during the doubles point.
First-year William Blumberg paired with junior Robert Kelly to earn a 6-3 win on Court 1. Shortly after, seniors Jack Murray and Ronnie Schneider put UNC up 1-0 with a 6-4 win.
What looked to be smooth sailing for North Carolina turned into quite the battle, however.
Illinois won four of the six first sets in singles, with the Tar Heels only winning theothers, 7-6. The Illini’s Aleks Vukic took the first singles point over Blumberg with a win in straight sets.
First-year Simon Soendergaard also lost in two sets, and UNC found itself down, 2-1.
Kelly was there to save the day, however. He glided through his second set, 6-1, and made tied the match at 2-2.
This shifted the momentum back in North Carolina’s favor, and it capitalized.
First-year Josh Peck earned a tough 6-3 second set win to take down his opponent and give UNC the lead, one it would not lose again.
Murray clinched the win after he fought back from a set down to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Who stood out?
Kelly had another great outing on Saturday, winning both his doubles and singles matches. He was one of only two Tar Heels to win their first singles set, and he had to come back from 2-4 down in order to do so.
The other teammate to win his first singles set was Peck. This turned out to make a big difference in the final outcome of the match, as both Kelly and Peck won important points to take the lead back for UNC.
When was it decided?
When Kelly came back from 2-4 down in his first set, it completely shifted the match. If he wasn’t able to come back in the first set, the Illini might have had a chance to close out the match.
The comeback's impact was apparent immediately, because Kelly had no problem once he found his rhythm. He was able to earn the 6-1 win in the second set and tie the game.
This started the domino effect for North Carolina.
Once Kelly got his team back on the board, Peck was able to close out his second set and put UNC up, 3-2. Along with confidence, these sets gave the other Tar Heels the chance to find their footing.
Why does it matter?
This was one of North Carolina’s first big tests of the early season. Coming in, they had only dropped one set in seven matches, all of which were at home.
The Tar Heels needed a chance to learn how to adjust and get a victory when it’s not all going their way. With the ITA Indoor National Championships in two weeks, these are the types of matches that will get a top-10 team ready for the best competition.
Where do they play next?
The Tar Heels now return home to take on No. 25 Mississippi. They will play at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.