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No. 17 UNC men's tennis secures ticket to the ITA National Team Indoor Championships

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UNC graduate Ryan Seggerman and first-year Will Jansen celebrate at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center on Sunday, January 29, 2023. UNC beat Harvard 4-1.

A family win. 

That's how head coach Sam Paul described the North Carolina men’s tennis team's success during the ITA Kickoff Weekend. The Tar Heels blanked Oklahoma State, 4-0, on Saturday and No. 13 Harvard, 4-1, in the championship match on Sunday to secure their ticket to the ITA National Team Indoor Championships. 

For UNC, its success all boiled down to energy. 

The energy of the team, the crowd, the weekend — it all came together to put North Carolina one step closer to winning its third indoor championship, which is the first box on the checklist for the Tar Heels this season. 

On Saturday, the Tar Heels were able to quickly dispense of the Cowboys in doubles play to gain the first point. The singles match proved to be more of a challenge, with both Brian Cernoch and Ryan Seggerman, playing on the No. 1 and 2 courts, respectively, trailing at times to their opponents. 

One player that remained consistent, however, was first-year Will Jansen, playing at No. 3. Despite only arriving in the U.S. in January, the London native stayed calm throughout all four of his matches, winning each one to help UNC emerge triumphant. He credited his steadfast performance to the boisterous ambiance at Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center.

“It’s quite easy to get pumped when there are so many people watching,” Jansen said. “Last year, in some tournaments, there were like two people watching — your coach and the fitness coach. It's just great to have that amount of support and it really fired us up.” 

The left-handed first-year is coming off of a successful junior career, having had the chance to play in high-profile events like the Wimbledon and the U.S. Open junior tournaments, and it’s clear that he is already making his mark on collegiate tennis — and on his teammates. 

His teammates play a pivotal role in this call-and-response, cheering on “London” when they aren't on the court themselves. 

“That's something coach Paul emphasizes,” he said of the camaraderie. “You need to bring that energy because you know every team that we play is gonna be very good.” 

On Sunday, the team found their energy directed at a different player: senior Anuj Watane. 

The match against Harvard went down to the wire — UNC had gotten itself up 3-1, but was struggling to close out a final singles victory and secure the win. Once again, Cernoch and Seggerman had found themselves knotted in highly contested matches that seemed as if they could swing either way. 

Watane, playing on court five, had dropped his first set 1-6. Things weren't look promising.

But feeding off the gritty energy of the courts beside him, he clawed his way back to win the match 1-6, 6-2, 6-2. 

“I just slowly found my way into the match, one point at a time,” Watane said. “I just kept fighting, kept having faith and then I looked over at Cernoch. I think he was down 5-2 in the first (set) and came back to 5-5, so that was giving me a lot of inspiration, hope (and) fight. And looking at Jansen coming out with a straight-set win, that was amazing and just kept motivating me to fight.”

His win clinched a North Carolina victory, assuring the Tar Heels a berth in the indoor championships' Sweet 16. Furthermore, it topped off a monumental weekend for the UNC men's tennis program. 

After the win against OSU on Saturday, Paul was inducted into the North Carolina Tennis Foundation Hall of Fame. That same morning, his former student, Rinky Hijikata, won the Australian Open men’s doubles championship. 

“It’s my 40th year of coaching college tennis,” Paul said. “I was so reflective coming into this weekend, and yesterday was such a great day … It wasn't about me — it was beautiful (but) it's never been about me — it's about these guys.” 

Paul confessed he was nervous about losing the match prior to the induction ceremony. But his fears were assuaged, and the Tar Heels finished out their perfect weekend on a high note. 

“I love everyone on this team,” Watane said. “They’re my brothers and they’re my best friends… Nobody deserves it more than these guys.”

@PeaceGwen

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Gwen Peace

Gwen Peace is the 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a senior writer. Gwen is a sophomore pursuing a double major in media and journalism and peace, war and defense.