After being stuck indoors during two weeks of bad weather, the No. 9 North Carolina men’s tennis players faced an outdoor match they were supposed to win.
Tulsa (10-12) has had an up-and-down season thus far and was at the end of a four-game skid when it touched down in Chapel Hill, and the Tar Heels (16-2, 3-1 ACC) had won three of the last four matchups.
But North Carolina — recalling losses against similar borderline-tournament teams last year in Notre Dame and Florida State — knew it could not relax against a lineup who’d proven that they had the capabilities of beating a top-5 team.
“Every time they step on the court, we’re expecting them to bring their highest level, and I think they brought it somewhere close to that,” senior Ronnie Schneider said. “I think it was more that we, really the matches that we won in singles, took it to them.”
But while North Carolina emerged with a 5-2 victory — clinching the match at 4-1 — it wasn’t all sun rays and smiles. There were long rallies that facilitated long games. There were frequent, loud explosions of relief or energy after critical points. And there was even a ball pelted out of the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center at the conclusion of a frustrating set.
“They got a good team, and they play a really tough schedule so their record doesn’t reflect their team,” head coach Sam Paul said. “It was a really good effort on our part — not a complete effort — but it was good. We learned a lot today and this match will help us as we begin for the end run of ACC play.”
All three doubles courts were close. After seeing senior Jack Murray and first-year Simon Soendergaard pull out their doubles match, 6-4, on Court 2, the No. 16 Tar Heel doubles tandem of Will Blumberg and Robert Kelly weathered a comeback by Tulsa’s No. 54 Majed Kilani and Or Ram-Harel to win 6-4 and secure the doubles point.
Singles was no cake walk, either. No. 54 Kelly fell in singles (2-6, 5-7) for the second consecutive time this year on Court 4. Soendergaard lost in tiebreak 4-6, 7-5, 0-1 (4) on Court 3. Some matches were also closer and longer than expected, as Blumberg, who is No. 31 in the nation in singles and had been dominant all year, was tested in his 7-5, 6-4 victory.
“Playing outdoors is a little different,” Blumberg said. “(Kilani) made me hit a lot of balls, it was pretty hot today, so he did a good job of slowing down the pace and not letting me jump up and hit strong forehands."
“It was a good test to have to build confidence off of for the rest of the season.”
Next weekend, the Tar Heels take on Miami and Florida State at home — two more teams with Tulsa-like potential. Paul just hopes the madness that’s omnipresent in March sports misses his team.
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