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Thursday June 8th

No. 6 UNC men's tennis sweeps rounds one and two matches, moves on to NCAA Sweet 16

<p>The UNC men's tennis team poses in front of their banner after beating Tennesee on May 13 to move on to the NCAA Sweet 16.&nbsp;</p>
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The UNC men's tennis team poses in front of their banner after beating Tennesee on May 13 to move on to the NCAA Sweet 16. 

May Madness is here, hotter and louder than ever. 

The No. 6 North Carolina men’s tennis team hosted the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tennis Championships for the fifth year in the row on May 12 and 13 in 90-plus degree weather, but the extreme heat didn’t keep the UNC tennis family from filling the stands. 

The Tar Heels kicked off the weekend with a 4-0 sweep against Campbell on Saturday afternoon. This was the second time UNC has faced the Camels this season, the first being during indoors where North Carolina breezed past them with a 7-0 victory. 

Even though UNC had a nearly perfect win, the team faced its challenges through heat and injury. A few key players were missing from the lineup Saturday afternoon — senior Robert Kelly for both singles and doubles while first-year Mac Kiger missed singles. With these two out on Saturday, sophomore Josh Peck and junior Anu Kodali were able to make NCAA appearances. 

North Carolina clinched the doubles point on Saturday thanks to 6-4 wins by double teams junior Blaine Boyden and first-year Ben Sigouin and sophomore Simon Soendergaard and Kiger. In singles, sophomore William Blumberg breezed by with a 6-0, 6-2 win, bumping UNC’s lead up to two. Soendergaard pushed the lead to three with a 6-1, 6-4 victory of his own with teammate Boyden finishing a few seconds later clinching the Tar Heel win with a whooping 6-4, 6-0 victory. 

The Tar Heels continued their hunt for the NCAA Championship on Sunday, and once again, they were faced with hot temperatures. In attempt to protect the athletes from the heat forecasted for later in the day, the match was set to start at 10 a.m. instead of the previous 2 p.m. match time. 

North Carolina faced No. 20 Tennessee, who had swept UNCW the previous morning. Despite having a confident win under their belt, Tennessee fell 4-0 to UNC after a hard-fought battle in the round of 32. Boyden, Blumberg and Kelly all had notable singles wins during Sunday’s match.

"(Kelly) played one of the best matches he's played in a while," head coach Sam Paul said. "I'm so happy for him to finish out here, and happy for all of our guys. We played pretty well in singles up and down the line. We're happy to be moving forward."

The Tar Heels secured the doubles point, but not without a little trouble. Kelly and Kiger returned for the Mother’s Day match and both played doubles and singles. The duo of Soendergaard and Kiger finished first with a 6-1 loss to their Tennessee opponents, leaving UNC with no choice but to win on Courts One and Two. Blumberg and Kelly came out with a 6-2 win, and the focus turned to Boyden and Sigouin on Court Two. 

Boyden and Sigouin, a new dynamic duo, are 10-2 this season after their 6-4 win on Sunday. They have played each doubles match together since March 23, and it has become obvious that this duo has the potential to become a powerhouse. 

“They’re stepping up,” Paul said. “They’re playing better every match.” 

Boyden and Sigouin balance each other out and mesh well together. Their energy is contagious, constantly hyping the other or the crowd up. When the duo edged to a 3-2 lead, they simultaneously made the exact same expressions to the fans in the stands — jumping up and screaming. They constantly high-fived and fist bumped, sometimes more than once in between serves. 

While the chemistry continues to grow between these emerging stars, the duo is just as strong during singles as they are in doubles. 

“They stepped up huge in doubles, but in singles, Bo has only lost one match this year,” Kelly said. “Ben, a super freshman just like Will, you can’t ask for more. It’s really cool to see them, and they’ve bonded a lot.”

“Bo is such a good example. He works hard and never does anything wrong. I think Ben looks up to Bo a little bit but also Bo respects the hell out of Ben because of how good he is so I think it’s a good pairing.” 

While the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament have shown the growth of a junior and first-year dynamic duo, the spotlight was on UNC’s lone senior on Sunday. It was a race between Kelly and Sigouin on who would finish their match first, and it was only fitting that on UNC’s commencement day that Kelly clinched the match with a straight 6-4 singles victory. 

“It’s a crazy feeling, my last match at Cone-Kenfield…,” Kelly said. “(Clinching) wasn't the most important thing to me. I knew if Ben clinched I wouldn't have to play anymore.”

“I was just trying to get off the court because it was so hot. But it was really special to clinch. It’s the last point I’ll ever play here."

As the ball went wide, Kelly took his hat off and spread his arms open wide as he faced the crowd. He pumped his fist while he walked to shake hands with his opponent. Coming from the sidelines, Boyden came jogging up to be the first to congratulate his teammate. After all, they have been friends since Boyden was 10 years old. 

“It was super special,” Boyden said. “He’s been a little banged up, but for him to send us to the round of 16 on his last home match, it was super special and I’m extremely happy for him.” 

Because of standouts Boyden, Sigouin, Blumberg and Kelly, May Madness continues for North Carolina. For the sixth year in a row, the Tar Heels are headed to the round of 16, which will be hosted at Wake Forest University. They will face the winner of USC and Harvard at 9 a.m. on Friday May 18. 


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