The No. 6 North Carolina men’s tennis team beat the Duke Blue Devils, 4-1, on Saturday night to win in the ITA Kickoff Weekend in Chapel Hill. The home victory sent the Tar Heels (4-0) to their fifth consecutive ITA National Team Indoor Tennis Championships in Chicago.
The match held personal value for a number of players. Junior Simon Soendergaard’s father John was in the audience, marking the first time the Danish local was able to visit and see his son play in North Carolina. Junior William Blumberg was able to celebrate his 21st birthday with a win in a match that could dictate the course of the young tennis season.
But it was first-year Brian Cernoch and sophomore Benjamin Sigouin, two of the youngest players on the team, who were instrumental in helping the Tar Heels clinch the victory.
The final score didn't reflect the match's competitive start. UNC split the first two doubles matches, as Soendergaard and sophomore Mac Kiger came away with a win while Blumberg and senior Blaine Boyden were unable to control the Blue Devils on Court 1.
The all-important doubles point was left to Cernoch and Sigouin, who stood tied with the Blue Devils at 6-6 by the time their teammates finished their respective contests.
In a raucous back-and-forth affair, Duke’s Jason Lapidus and Sean Sculley eventually outlasted the young Tar Heels, winning the tiebreaker, 12-10, and nabbing the doubles point for Duke.
The fatigue and disappointment in the building were tangible. Cernoch and Sigouin had repeatedly come within one point of beating Lapidus and Sculley, yet it was Duke who was walking into the singles round with all of the swagger.
“Losing the doubles point in that fashion is tough, but it’s a good opportunity for them to step up,” Blumberg said.
Cernoch and Sigouin did just that following their close doubles loss. Duke entered singles play with the momentum and the one-point advantage, but Cernoch and Sigouin scratched and clawed their way to redemption.
“It’s tough,” Sigouin said. “You don’t really have time to regroup. I sat on the bench there for a couple of minutes and said, ‘Just got to let this go.’”
Six-time ACC Coach of the Year Sam Paul put it simpler.
“They just calmed down," he said. "They just went to play.”
Cernoch and Sigouin took care of business in their respective singles matches, decisively knocking out their opponents as Sigouin clinched the match for the Tar Heels. Cernoch won 6-3, 6-1, while Sigouin earned a 6-4, 6-2 victory.
“My number one priority is just to get the win,” Sigouin said. “Everyone else did their job before me, and I was just happy I could clinch.”
Other wins were earned by Soendergaard, 6-2, 6-1, and Kiger, 7-5, 6-3.
The young duo of Cernoch and Sigouin earned the respect of those at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center on Saturday, but they’ve had the respect of those in their own locker room for much longer.
"They're studs, man," Blumberg said.
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