After a Cinderella run to the NCAA semifinals in the 2019 spring season, the North Carolina men’s tennis team opened at No. 4 in the 2020 preseason polls.
So far, doubles team senior Simon Soendergaard and junior Mac Kiger is ranked No. 7 in the country, while senior Josh Peck is ranked No. 82 in singles. UNC’s deep roster also features players that have competed in the professional realm and seven returning players.
Not to mention the team has four seniors, and went 2-0 in its kickoff weekend against North Carolina Central and Wofford.
“It’s been going by too fast, but I’m really excited for this last season,” Soendergaard said. “I think Will (Blumberg), Josh (Peck), Ladd (Harrison) and I are really excited to try to do the best we can to make a good result this season.”
Here's what to expect from the Tar Heels this season:
Recap of last season
The Tar Heels finished 22-7 overall and 9-3 in ACC play, falling in the semifinals of the ITA National Team Indoor Championship, ACC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.
The team consistently drew large crowds each match and went 13-0 at home, but just 5-4 on the road and 4-3 in neutral territory.
The most notable part of the Tar Heels' season — aside from beating Duke twice and N.C. State once for the program’s 400th ACC win — was their NCAA Tournament run. For the sixth straight year, UNC hosted the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, and the home crowd provided an advantage over Navy (4-0) in the first round and Georgia (4-1) in the second round.
The team then traveled out to Los Angeles for the Sweet Sixteen and achieved a historic 4-1 win over USC. It was UNC’s first-ever win over the 21-time NCAA champion Trojans, and it was also the first time a team had beaten USC at home in the NCAA Tournament.
For the fifth time in six years, the Tar Heels were headed to the NCAA quarterfinals.
On a warm May day, UNC pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season. With then-sophomore Benjamin Sigouin’s 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 win, the Tar Heels beat No. 1 Ohio State 4-2 to reach the Final Four for the second time in program history.
They then fell 4-3 to No. 4 Wake Forest, however, ending their impressive run.
Who to watch
William Blumberg is one of UNC’s three captains this season for the second consecutive year, and consistently has been one of North Carolina's strongest players.
This past fall, he competed in the 2019 Collegiate Winter Wild Card Playoff. He’s a three-time All-American in singles and doubles and a three-time first-team All-ACC player. In 2018, he was ranked as high as No. 1 in both singles and doubles and was the ACC Player of the Year.
Head coach Sam Paul said this past weekend that Blumberg is “one of the greatest players, if not the greatest, in Carolina tennis history.”
Rinky Hijikata is another player to keep your eye on this season. While he’s a first-year, Hijikata will be a threat in collegiate play: he pulled off an upset over the No. 2 player in the Australian Open Qualifiers last week.
What to expect
It’s safe to assume UNC will have another impressive season given the talent on the roster. The team is versatile and the chemistry runs deep. The first real test for this team is against TCU before the ITA National Team Indoor Championship. Last season, UNC beat TCU 4-3 in the indoor tournament.
“Our senior class is strong,” Blumberg said. “We have a really strong team this year so it’s nice to always be able to compete for a national championship. I don’t want to think about leaving yet.
“We got a long way to go, so maybe we’ll just focus on tomorrow for now.”
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