For the second time in the program's history, the No. 9 North Carolina men’s tennis team is headed to the NCAA Tournament semi-finals.
On Friday at the USTA National Campus, the Tar Heels (22-6, 9-3 ACC) pulled off a 4-2 upset over No. 1 Ohio State (32-3, 11-0 Big Ten), thanks to a dramatic three set finish by sophomore Benjamin Sigouin after UNC held the Buckeyes at 3-0 for a majority of the evening.
This was UNC’s second upset in the tournament. The team beat Georgia in the second round and topped the then No. 8 USC in the round of sixteen in Los Angeles, Calif. Friday’s Elite Eight matchup featured the past two NCAA runner-ups — UNC in 2017, who lost to Virginia, and OSU in 2018, who lost to Wake Forest.
Heading into Friday’s match, the Tar Heels were the underdogs — no one imagined the drama that would unfold as UNC pulled off the upset.
The doubles point came down to Court 3’s Mac Kiger and Simon Soendergaard, after William Blumberg and Blaine Boyden fell 6-1 on Court 1 and Court 2’s pairing of Sigouin and first-year Brian Cernoch won their court 6-2. The Tar Heels proved victorious with a 6-2 win from Kiger and Soendergaard, claiming an early 1-0 lead.
The lead stretched to three thanks to the team’s rookie and most experienced player — Cernoch and Boyden, respectively. On Court 4, Cernoch won a quick 6-2, 6-0 match while Boyden secured a 3-0 lead with a 6-1, 6-3 victory of his own.
All North Carolina needed was to win one more court, while the Buckeyes needed all four.
Josh Peck was the first Tar Heel to fall losing 6-3,6-4, despite starting to power back in the second set. Blumberg fell 7-5, 6-4, narrowing UNC’s lead to 3-2. All eyes fell on Courts 2 and 6 as fans of both teams held their breath while the drama continued to unfold.
Sigouin, a Canadian native, is known for his variety of shots, transitioning from slow lofty balls to lethal fast hits. His variation started to throw OSU’s John McNally off of his game, pushing Sigouin’s lead to 3-0. However, a sudden momentum shift allowed McNally to go on a 4-0 run while Soendergaard struggled at 4-4.
“I got kind of nervous, which led to him winning four games in a row in the third set,” Sigouin said. “After that, I told myself, ‘It’s time to re-lock in. The moment is right now, and I have to forget about what happened in the past and just lock in for the present.’”
Within a few minutes of each other, Soendergaard and Sigouin broke for 5-4 as the sun started to set in Orlando. Sigouin found himself at match point.
When McNally hit a ball just over the sideline, Sigouin dropped his racket and fell on his back, screaming while shaking his fists. Tar Heels stormed the court, piling on top of the victorious sophomore.
“I’m just proud of myself that I could do it for UNC and for my coaches and for my teammates because that means the most to me,” Sigouin said.
They had done it.
UNC stunned top-seed Ohio State, and now, the underdogs will move on to the Final Four, where the Tar Heels will face ACC rival and defending NCAA champion Wake Forest, Saturday at 4 p.m.
“This is a close group,” head coach Sam Paul said. “They’ve been dedicated all year. They’ve worked hard and have overcome some adversity. They’re playing their best tennis now at the most important time of the year.”
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