After one of the best spring starts in a decade, the No. 5 North Carolina men’s tennis team (10-1) competed in the ITA National Team Indoor Championship in Madison, Wisconsin over the weekend. Despite an impressive streak of wins, the Tar Heels fell just short of the title, losing to No. 1 Southern California (9-1) in the finals.
UNC’s first match of the tournament came on Friday against No. 14 South Carolina. The Gamecocks fell to the Tar Heels by a score of 4-2, their first non-sweep victory of the spring season.
Though they dropped two singles matches, the team still had impressive victories that day. The biggest one came from senior William Blumberg, who defeated defending NCAA singles champion Paul Jubb 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. This marks the second time this season that Blumberg has defeated Jubb in singles play.
In the Saturday quarterfinals, the Tar Heels took on No. 3 Florida. Here, UNC returned to its regular trend of victories, with the Gators suffering a 4-0 sweep. In addition to claiming the doubles point, North Carolina won every singles match in straight sets, advancing UNC to the semifinals for the fourth time in five years.
Sunday’s semifinals saw UNC take on the defending ITA Indoor champions in No. 2 Ohio State. Despite the Buckeyes being top-seeded and higher ranked, the Tar Heels were able to stun their opponents in yet another 4-0 sweep. This impressive victory happened to be head coach Sam Paul’s 500th career victory, and also marked UNC’s first time back to the finals since 2016, when it beat Virginia for the title.
On Monday, the Tar Heels were set to take on the Trojans in the final. The match immediately got off to a weak start, with UNC dropping the doubles point. While each team won a match, the third one eventually went to a tiebreaker. After a hard-fought battle, the team of Blumberg and sophomore Brian Cernoch eventually lost the tiebreaker 7-6 to USC’s Daniel Cukierman and Riley Smith.
The singles matches did not fare any better. The Tar Heels’ only point came from Blumberg, whose opponent had to retire from the match due to illness. The top-singles-ranked Cukierman defeated UNC’s No. 60 junior Benjamin Sigouin in straight sets, 6-2, 6-1. After that loss, the team began to fade. Cernoch lost in a 6-1, 6-4 defeat, putting the Trojans up 3-1. To cap off the day, No.15 Mor Bulis defeated senior No. 80 Joshua Peck to claim the title for USC.
Who stood out?
Blumberg was the Tar Heels’ standout player for the weekend. Despite being unranked, he continues to play well against ranked opponents. In addition to his victory over Jubb in the first round, he defeated No. 23 Oliver Crawford (Florida) and went into the third set with No. 19 John McNally (Ohio State) in a game which went unfinished.
The team of Blumberg and Cernoch also shone on the doubles court up until the finals. This was especially true on Sunday, when they collaborated for a 6-2 defeat of the No. 1 doubles team in the country, consisting of OSU’s McNally and Robert Cash.
When was it decided?
The tournament was truly not decided until the final day. However, Cukierman’s big win over Sigouin started a ripple effect that eventually saw the Tar Heels drop the next two matches in straight sets.
Why does it matter?
Last year, the Tar Heels only made it to the semifinals of the competition, losing to ACC rivals Wake Forest. Their ability to make a run like this and sweep the defending champions of a national tournament should give hope for the conference schedule and ACC Tournament to come.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will take a short break before kicking off their conference schedule at home against the Virginia Tech Hokies on March 1st.
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