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UNC men's tennis extends its unbeaten start to the season with 4-3 win over South Carolina

First-year tennis player Rinky Hijikata prepares to serve the ball against Vazha Shubladze and Diego Padilha of Georgia State during men's doubles in the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. Hijikata made his debut on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020.

The No.1 North Carolina men’s tennis team (12-0, 4-0 ACC) defeated No.14 South Carolina (10-6, 5-3 SEC) on Sunday with a final score of 4-3, extending its winning streak to 11 games against the Gamecocks.

What happened?

After a 7-0 outdoor home win against Wofford on Wednesday, UNC traveled to Columbia, S.C. to face off against South Carolina.

In doubles, No. 5 senior Mac Kiger and senior Simon Soendergaard went up by two games over Toby Samuel and Jake Beasley. However, South Carolina would respond, and came back to win the set, 6-3.

No. 6 senior William Blumberg and junior Brian Cernoch split games with South Carolina's No. 44 Connor Thomson and Daniel Rodrigues before ultimately dropping the set, 6-3.

In singles, Cernoch lost to Samuel in two sets, 6-3, 6-1, and Blumberg fell to Rodrigues in a 6-3, 6-2 defeat. It looked like UNC's unbeaten start to the season was in jeopardy, but the Tar Heels would bounce back.

No. 55 sophomore Rinky Hijikata defeated No. 81 Raphael Lambling in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4. Additionally, No.100 Josh Peck took down Jake Beasley in a hard fought three sets, 6-2, 2-6, 6-0. After losing the first set, Soendergaard came back to win against Phillip Jordan, 6-2, 7-6, 6-2.

Finally, No. 41 Benjamin Sigouin was able to hold off Thomson in three sets, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, to clinch the UNC victory.

Who stood out? 

Hijikata and Peck won points for UNC, which sparked the Tar Heels' comeback.

Hijikata took down his opponent in two sets, setting up the first Tar Heel point of the afternoon. Although Peck dropped the second set, he dialed in and won the rest of his games in the third set. 

“I’m just extremely proud of our guys, to come back and win a match like that,” head coach Sam Paul said, “Beating a good South Carolina team on the road is just a really good moment for us.”

When was it decided?

In their first trip to Columbia since 2006, the Tar Heels faced a strong opponent in South Carolina, who are ranked No.14 nationally. In the beginning of the match, South Carolina showed its strength by winning the doubles point and taking two singles points early in the afternoon. But UNC refused to give up, and after wins from Hijikata and Peck, Soendergaard came back from his loss in the first set, 6-2, to win the second and third set against Jordan. 

Minutes later, the team rushed over to Court 2 to celebrate Sigouin’s victory over Thomson, which completed the comeback against South Carolina. 

“Our guys just didn’t quit even though we were in some serious trouble,” Paul said, “Three of our last four matches were won in the third set, so that’s a really good sign on how hard we fought today.”

Why does it matter?

The last time these teams played was during ITA Kickoff Weekend in Chapel Hill, when North Carolina came out on top, 4-1. In Columbia, the Tar Heels were able repeat the same success they had in January. 

With another win in the books, North Carolina is the last team to remain undefeated in the Oracle/ITA rankings. 

When do they play next?

Now on a 12-game winning streak, UNC resumes ACC play by traveling to Blacksburg, Va. to face off against Virginia Tech on Friday, March 26th at 2 p.m. 

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“We’ll learn some things from today’s match,” Paul said, “Looking forward to a really warm week.”

@DTHSports |