On a day when the North Carolina women’s tennis team started out slowly, perseverance and a shift in momentum lifted the No. 1 team in the country to a 4-1 victory over Michigan.
North Carolina (11-0), coming off its ITA Indoor national championship, went down early in all three of its doubles matches. Two pairs — No. 30 Jessie Aney and Alexa Graham on Court One, and No. 20 Sara Daavettila and Alle Sanford on Court Two — went down 3-0, and looked sluggish against competitive Michigan teams.
“I knew they were going to come in against us with nothing to lose,” head coach Brian Kalbas said. “They came out really aggressive, and we were kind of flat.”
Both pairs would battle to tie the score up though, and although Daavettila and Sanford would drop their match 6-4, Aney and Graham won six straight games in a come-from-behind victory (6-3). UNC would take the doubles point after a comfortable 6-2 win on Court Three.
In singles, No. 21 Aney took the momentum from her comeback win in doubles to decisively win her first set of singles, 6-2. She had a more competitive second set, but still won 6-3 to take the match and secure North Carolina’s first singles point.
“In the huddle, we had a really good vibe,” Aney said. “I think that’s just a tribute to us coming back in doubles … The doubles point is bigger than just one point for us. It affects all the singles matches.”
Other opening singles matches were hard-fought, slow-going games. Star player and sixth-ranked Alle Sanford struggled early in her first match against Michigan's No. 29 Kate Fahey. The first set went to a tiebreaker, and Fahey edged out Sanford, 7-4.
The first-set loss seemed to leave the former No. 1 recruit frustrated. Her body slumped during the set break at times, and she looked visibly upset as she proceeded to lose her second set. Despite the first set's competitive nature, Fahey picked apart Sanford, outrunning and outgunning her to a 6-1 second-set route that gave the Wolverines their one and only point of the competition.
Kalbas acknowledged that after the first set, Sanford looked “deflated," but he remained optimistic about the future of his most talented player.
“She’s playing good tennis, she’s played some really good opponents," he said. "She’s going to do great things for us in the future.”
No. 52 Daavettila’s first set on Court Two — the afternoon's clinching match — ended in a 6-4 win. She won four games in a row, after being down 4-2 early.
Long rallies defined a second set that seemed to never end. The two competitors traded body blows on the court until someone could finally be forced out of position to return — or was simply too tired to try.
If the battle in the first set between these two ranked competitors felt slow, the second set felt like a coming of the inevitable. The Tar Heels were already up 3-0 — boosted by an earlier win from Chloe Ouellet-Pizer — when the crowd gravitated toward Court Two to witness Daavettila finish off her opponent in the second set, 6-1. The first-year secured the fourth and final point for the still-undefeated North Carolina team.
“I’m really just proud of the way we stayed together...” Kalbas said. “We did a really good job of staying focused and regrouping and not letting the sets get away from us.”