The No. 2 North Carolina men’s tennis team won the 2021 ITA Indoor National Championships last weekend in Champaign, Ill. This is the second time the Tar Heels have taken this title in the last five years.
The tournament started Friday night, with the No. 2-seeded Tar Heels facing the No. 7-seeded Tennessee Volunteers. Junior Brian Cernoch said winning that match was key to setting the tone early.
“It was just playing a complete match,” Cernoch said. “We just wanted to keep our foot on the gas and kind of close them out.”
After winning the doubles point, Cernoch and senior Simon Soendergaard went on to win both their singles matches. Senior Benjamin Sigouin finished his match with a 6-4, 6-4 win to send UNC to the semifinals.
In the next day's semifinals, the Tar Heels took on the No. 6-seeded Virginia Cavaliers. Knowing the team would face some tough doubles competition, North Carolina won only one doubles match and found itself down 2-0 early on in singles play. Still, Cernoch was unfazed.
“I had full belief in the entire team that we were going to come back and pull it off,” Cernoch said. “If it takes an hour and a half, it takes an hour and a half. If it takes three hours, four hours, we will be there, and we are going to be the last team standing.”
The Tar Heels rallied together in singles play to pull out the 4-2 win over the Cavaliers. After Sigouin lost his match early, Soendergaard sparked the team’s comeback by beating his opponent 6-2, 6-4 and giving UNC its first point of the match. Sophomore Rinky Hijikata and senior Josh Peck followed in Soendergaard’s footsteps, winning their matches shortly after. Cernoch won the clinching match that sent North Carolina to Sunday's finals.
“I think they just kept their composure,” head coach Sam Paul said. “(In) the other matches, we were in control.”
In the championship match of the tournament, the Tar Heels faced the No.4-seeded Baylor Bears. North Carolina took the doubles point early, with the team of senior Mac Kiger and Soendergaard winning 6-4 at No. 2 doubles, while Hijikata and Sigouin closed out doubles play with a 6-2 win at the No. 3 spot. With an early jump on Baylor, the Tar Heels confidently headed into singles play.