The pressure was on UNC men's tennis junior Robert Kelly and first-year William Blumberg.
With teammates senior Ronnie Schneider and sophomore Anu Kodali winning 6-4, and senior Jack Murray and first-year Simon Soendergaard dropping their match 6-3, the focus in Friday's home match against Miami was solely on Blumberg and Kelly, who were trailing 5-4.
A few hits later, the duo found themselves ahead 6-5 — one more point to go for the win. Kelly stepped up to serve, sporting an ankle brace on one ankle and tape on the other. A swift holding serve pushed the No. 17 Tar Heels doubles team to 7-5, giving the UNC men’s tennis team the lead as it headed into singles. The duo’s winning streak continued into Sunday, crushing Florida State 6-2.
“They’re getting better,” head coach Sam Paul said. “It’s an adjustment because William came in in January. They have to learn each other’s stuff, indoors and outdoors.”
Kelly and Blumberg have a bond like no other. The two have played every doubles match together since Blumberg joined the team, with the exception of the Duke match on March 7. In addition, they have known each other for a few years, making playing together that much sweeter.
“He’s a lovable kid,” Kelly said. “He loves everyone, and takes things so personally just because he’s such a happy kid.”
Blumberg just joined the team in January, but that hasn't held him back. He quickly found his way to the national ranks, moving from No. 61 to No. 31 within two weeks. Blumberg’s quick success is reflected in his individual record, 14-2, losing only to Illinois and California. Despite these two losses, he has continued to grow, but has stayed on a constant uphill trend since the beginning.
“There’s no night and day with that guy,” Paul said. “He was pretty good when he came here. I don’t want to over coach him too much, so I just let him play his game … He is pretty amazing.”
The adjustment was hard for Blumberg. Before joining the team, he was taking online classes, so playing for a team gave him a sense of belonging. It helped to have an old friend by his side and coaches cheering him on along the way.
“It was very different,” Blumberg said. “I had played, done online school, and traveled a lot. Coming here, to college, to play for a team and other people besides yourself is something that I really like and look forward to every day.”
Even though it may have been a struggle, Blumberg doesn’t show it. His winning streaks and easy play have brought a new perspective to the team.
“He’s given a little bit of life, a little bit of youth,” Kelly said. “Him and all the freshmen are a little immature, and it’s kinda fun. The team really gels together.”
They are strong together and just as mighty apart. Both won their singles matches on Friday and Sunday, even though both had their challenging moments. Blumberg realized he needed to slow down and perfect his serve to snag the extra points, while Kelly showed off his French side.
“I try not to freak out,” Kelly said. “I tend to speak French when I get mad because I lived there … It’s not PG.”
Despite their individual frustrations, the duo looks for ways to support each other. When Kelly scored the final point to secure a 7-6 singles win on Sunday, Blumberg was there behind the fence to cheer on his comrade.
“That a boy Kelly,” he shouted — supporting the other half of a dynamite doubles team.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.