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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC men's tennis establishes momentum after big wins at ITA Kickoff Weekend

Benjamin Sigouin

UNC men's tennis sophomore Benjamin Sigouin prepares to return the ball during a singles match against NC State on Wednesday April 3, 2019. UNC beat NC State 4-0. 

The No. 2 North Carolina men’s tennis team (2-0, 0-0 ACC) welcomed Duke, South Carolina and Northwestern to Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center on Jan. 24-25, where the teams squared off in a series of singles and doubles matches as part of the ITA Kickoff Weekend event.

The Tar Heels defeated Northwestern 4-0 on Sunday afternoon and advanced to the championship round on Monday, where they defeated South Carolina, 4-1. UNC players showed strength on the court both days and will use this momentum going forward with their season as it looks to bounce back after last season's cancellations. 

What happened?

The event started Sunday morning with South Carolina beating Duke 3-1 in singles while also claiming the doubles point for a 4-1 victory. UNC followed that with a victory later on Sunday afternoon, winning a point over Northwestern in doubles and a 3-0 tally in singles to complete a 4-0 victory.

The Tar Heels then played South Carolina in the finals on Monday afternoon. Competition was tight especially in the singles matches, but the Tar Heels pulled through at last. 

“The guys were fighting their tails off today,” head coach Sam Paul said. “South Carolina always gives us a great fight, and we’re happy to be moving on.”

Who stood out? 

The doubles matches were led by the UNC seniors. Paul commended seniors Josh Peck and Benjamin Sigouin for their doubles match on Monday where they played extremely well to defeat their opponent, 6-2. 

Seniors Mac Kiger and Simon Soendergaard, who made a fantastic pair as an all-American doubles team last season, were neck-and-neck with their opponents in the championship match, foreshadowing the promise of another powerful duo this season. 

Junior Brian Cernoch put together an impressive display in his singles match on Sunday, defeating his opponent 6-2, 6-3. Soendergaard also played a tiresome match on Monday to come out on top 6-3, 7-5. 

“I came out with a lot of energy, I stayed focused throughout the entire match without letting outside noise or distractions get to me,” Cernoch said. “I tried to execute my game plan to the best of my ability.” 

When was it decided?

The winner was not decided until late into the singles matches on Monday. The Tar Heels struggled at first to take control of their opponents on the court, forcing the outcome to come down to the last play. 

Determined, UNC found a way to bring the energy from Sunday into Monday’s battle and finish ahead on the scoreboard, with Sigouin's 6-4, 6-4 win sealing the deal.

Why does it matter?

The ITA Kickoff event showed a promising mix of young and experienced talent that fans can expect to shine this season. The experience exemplified by UNC’s seniors could carry the team through the ITA Team Indoor quarterfinals in February. 

The event was also a great opportunity for UNC to ease back into the season, coming together after so long apart for these two days of competition. 

“It’s so early in our season,” Paul said. “We’ve only been here a couple weeks because we had a month off in December, so we are still learning a lot about our team.” 

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels take on Virginia Tech in Chapel Hill on Jan. 31 before playing in the quarterfinals of the ITA National Team Indoor Championship on Feb. 12 in Champaign, Ill. 

“It’ll be a strange season, but I think the momentum that we're building based off this weekend will help us prepare for national indoors at the University of Illinois in a few weeks,” Cernoch said. 

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