The No. 13 North Carolina men’s tennis team routed Bucknell Sunday afternoon, 7-0, with all six singles players winning in straight sets and both doubles pairs winning their respective matches.
“I think it was a decent first performance,” senior Brian Cernoch said. “And we’re just looking to build off that into next week and the rest of the season.”
Cernoch, ranked No. 60 in singles by ITA Collegiate, cruised to a win over Bucknell’s Nick Mueller, and didn't drop a single game in the process. Junior Mark Dillon and sophomores Peter Murphy and Logan Zapp followed suit, only dropping one, the three and four total games, respectively.
Winning in such dominant fashion came naturally to the Tar Heels last season, as they finished No. 6 in national rankings. But that time in-between saw departures from stars William Blumberg, Josh Peck, Simon Soendergaard and Rinky Hijikata — all of whom either graduated or moved on to the professional level.
“It definitely hurts not having that leadership on the team,” Zapp said. “But at the same time, other guys have to step into that role this year. Every college team has to handle that.”
As for this season’s absences, fifth-year senior captain Benjamin Sigouin missed the match against Bucknell due to COVID-19 protocols. Sigouin — one of the most experienced and skilled players on the roster — was ranked No. 41 in singles for preseason rankings after finishing No. 62 last season. Typically playing alongside Cernoch as doubles partners, the pair was ranked No. 29 in preseason rankings.
“We gotta get healthy,” head coach Sam Paul said. “We’re gonna keep working hard.”
Next weekend, UNC will host the ITA Kickoff Weekend in Chapel Hill, featuring Northwestern, Arizona State and No. 6 Ohio State. The winner of UNC-Northwestern will play the winner of Arizona State-Ohio State to decide which team will advance to the ITA National Team Indoor Championship in Seattle.
As the defending indoor national champions, the road to a UNC repeat will not be easy.
“All four teams are really strong,” Cernoch said. “We can’t take any match for granted, so we’re just gonna take it one match at a time.”
Paul echoed Cernoch’s sentiments, adding that the team is focused solely on Northwestern at the moment. In the scenario that North Carolina faces Ohio State, the Tar Heels will certainly have a handful to overcome at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center.
Ohio State is a powerhouse in both singles and doubles, with three singles players ranked in the top 25, including No. 5 Matej Vocel. As for doubles, the top two duos in college tennis don the scarlet and gray — No. 1 Robert Cash and Matej Vocel, along with No. 2 Justin Boulais and James Trotter.
Cash and Vocel went undefeated in the fall, going 14-0 and securing titles at the ITA Men’s All-American Championships and ITA National Fall Championships.
As for the team they faced in the finals? Their teammates: Boulais and Trotter.
Meanwhile, the only doubles team North Carolina sent to ITA Fall Nationals saw a first-round exit. Currently ranked No. 20, the team consists of Zapp and first-year Casey Kania.
“We’ve tried to work on our chemistry a little bit more than we did before,” Zapp said. “We hadn’t really played together before regionals. The coaches have helped us with practicing some doubles techniques like on serves and returns.”
The promising young duo may very well have to face one of Ohio State’s seasoned and decorated doubles teams. But Zapp isn’t fazed.
“I mean, you gotta embrace it,” Zapp said. “As a competitor, you have to love every single second. If you’re going out there against a bottom team or a top team, it really should be the same mindset.”
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