Balls were flying. Tennis players were sliding.
People were shouting and tempers were high, but the wind and rain continued to fluctuate throughout the singles matches, messing with the players’ focus.
"It’s definitely a little frustrating sometimes to lose focus,” sophomore William Blumberg said. “You start talking to people and you look around, so I think that it was definitely a little difficult for me. I think I rebounded pretty well and fought my way through.”
Despite the variables that led to two game suspensions, slippery courts and tennis balls flying left and right, the No. 6 North Carolina men’s tennis team (15-4, 6-1 ACC) fought tooth and nail through the elements and came out with a whopping 6-1 win over Louisville (14-7, 4-4 ACC).
The game started out with near perfect weather, sunny and warm. The Tar Heels quickly secured the doubles point as the duo of first-year Benjamin Sigouin and junior Blaine Boyden on Court Two cruised to a 6-2 win. About 20 minutes later, No. 4 doubles team senior Robert Kelly and Blumberg came out with a 7-5 victory.
As the singles matches prepared to start, there was a shift in the weather as well as the attitudes in some of the Tar Heel players. When the winds began to pick up and clouds covered the once sunny sky, several players' energy levels started to falter.
“To be honest, I noticed a couple guys that were lacking a little energy, so I tried to scream a little more than normal today," Blumberg said, "Which was a little different for me because I’m always a little quieter. I tried to fire up some energy for everyone, and I thought I did a pretty good job so I was proud of that.”
Blumberg wasn’t the only vocal player. As elements shifted, the players became more expressive as tempers started to wear thin for both teams, especially on Court Three.
Kelly, who won the deciding point that gave the Tar Heels the win, and Louisville’s Federico Gomez both argued with the referee as well as their respective coaches, claiming that there was a double standard and unfair calls.
The tensions remained high all match.
“It was a little bit different environment for some of the guys that haven’t faced a team like that,” Blumberg said. “They’re a great team. They fight. They scrap. They never give up.”
“We were faced with very tough variables with the rain and wind, the weather kind of getting a little colder and the ball flying, so a lot of variables throughout the match," Blumberg continued. "But I thought the whole team fought and did a good job."
Despite the tense environment and bad conditions, two players stood out among the rest and ultimately secured the victory for the Tar Heels — upperclassmen Boyden and Kelly. While they are both veterans, the two Tar Heels led in opposite ways.
“They’re different,” Blumberg said. “Bo’s very talkative and acting on the court. He’s very energetic, and he’s normally the one firing everyone up, screaming about heart and everything.”
“Rob leads by winning," he continued. "Last year, he was incredible for us. This year, he’s been awesome for us. He always fights, never gives up, and that’s a quality that a lot of the younger guys look at.”
Both players played well and got a victory in both the doubles and singles matches. For Kelly, the noise level and tense atmosphere toyed with his temper and focus as he battled for a 6-4, 6-4 victory on Court Three.
“He hits some shots that you just look at like ‘Holy crap I can’t believe that went in,’” Blumberg said. “I’m lucky to be on the same side of the net instead of being on the opposite side.”
For Boyden, his singles opponent offered tough competition. Both the junior and his opponent often hit for long volleys that ended after miscalculated hits or costly mistakes for either player. After battling, the junior came out with a 7-5, 6-2 victory, improving to a 16-0 record this spring.
“He’s a leader and cares so much about the team,” Sigouin said. “After a big win or a tough loss, he is the first one to say something to the group. He really motivates us to keep going.”
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