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Rising star Cernoch finds success with guidance from doubles partner Sigouin

Brian Cernoch Florida State
First-year Brian Cernoch hits a forehand during UNC's match against Florida State on Sunday, March 31, 2019. The Heels beat the Seminoles 6-1.

Benjamin Sigouin and Brian Cernoch staggered themselves on Court Two, bouncing in anticipation of the ball. 

Sophomore Sigouin stood in the front left court as first-year Cernoch waited in the back right. Florida State served a quick ball to the left back court, forcing Sigouin and Cernoch to flip sides as the first-year lefty hit a strong forehand to keep the ball in play. A Seminole returned it, only for Sigouin to volley the ball just out of his reach and secure half of the doubles point for UNC. 

The No. 11 North Carolina men’s tennis team breezed past No. 26 FSU with a 6-1 victory, thanks to the standout singles and doubles performances of the new duo of Sigouin and Cernoch. 

“Florida State, I think they’re better than what they’re ranked,” Sigouin said. “They’re a good team. Obviously, the ACC is pretty tough.” 

The newly formed doubles team has taken its time to find its stride on the court this season. Prior to the Sunday match, Sigouin and Cernoch were 5-5 overall with a loss streak of two matches and 1-2 conference record. 

But watching UNC's (13-4, 5-2 ACC) duo on Sunday afternoon against FSU, the common fan wouldn’t have been able to tell. 

Before the match, the team talked about chemistry and by watching Sigouin and Cernoch, something in that conversation seemed to click. They moved in synchronization, playing quietly and communicating without speaking too much. 

“On the court, we’re learning about each other more and more,” Sigouin said. “We’re a great team when we play really well. The most important thing for us is good energy and good focus.” 

However, there is still room for growth. 

“They’re good friends, but we’re trying to get them to play a little bit more emotional on the court,” head coach Sam Paul said.

The two carried the powerful momentum into singles, tapping into that need for emotional play that Paul has referenced to them throughout the season. Every so often, on Courts Two and Three, a yell would echo throughout Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center. 

Both Sigouin and Cernoch talked to themselves, getting frustrated over a missed point or faulty hit. Cernoch, on Court Three, would cross his arms and tap his foot when he got frustrated over a play. 

Cernoch hasn’t won or finished a singles match in the last four games, but on Sunday afternoon, the first-year finally won, adding the first singles point for UNC onto the board. 

With each forehand, Cernoch jumped ever so slightly. It’s during his backhand that he stays grounded. He played with a sense of calmness, drawing from Sigouin on Court Two.

“It’s good playing next to him because I can feed off of his energy and kind of use that to my advantage,” Cernoch said.  

The first-year found his rhythm, fighting point by point. He won the first set, 6-3, and was powering ahead in the second set. When Cernoch was up, 4-1, volunteer assistant coach Chris Cloer offered another piece of advice to the first-year. 

“Take one step and get balanced,” Cloer said. 

It worked, for a short period of time. Once Cernoch was up, 5-2, he fell two straight sets, something he wished he could’ve changed. 

“At the end of the match, I was up, 5-2, and lost two tough games,” Cernoch said. “I closed it out on a deuce point so I was pretty happy about that.”

Cloer’s advice seemed to click during Cernoch’s final play before winning, 6-4. Besides one backhand at the beginning and another midway through, the first-year shuffled his feet to stay balanced and play to his dominant left hand.

The rising star is starting to find his way on the Tar Heel team. He was ranked as high as No. 40 in ITF world junior rankings before coming to UNC. He finished the fall season ranked No. 59 in singles and ranked No. 7 in the ITA Freshman/Newcomer rankings released in September. Now, he’s ranked No. 110 in singles. 

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While a lot of his success is due to his talent, some of the credit goes to the strong leadership and guidance from teammates like Sigouin, who clinched UNC’s win on Sunday after a 6-4, 6-2 win. 

Even though on paper Cernoch is still a first-year, on the court is a different story. 

“He’s not a freshman anymore,” Paul said. “He’s helped us tremendously. He’s got a bright future, and he’s getting better.”

@mwc13_3

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com