ORLANDO, Fla. – In the NCAA women’s tennis semifinal match, the key for a North Carolina victory was winning the most deuce points.
For the majority of the tied 40-40 game scores, the North Carolina women’s tennis team survived long rallies and aggressive plays to outlast the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs.
Now, the team will have an opportunity to play for the program’s first-ever national title.
Lifted by meticulous doubles play and patient singles performances, the Tar Heels defeated Georgia for the third time this season with a 4-0 victory on Friday, sending UNC to their first NCAA championship match since 2014.
After two straight team doubles point losses, junior Fiona Crawley and graduate student Abbey Forbes assisted in ending the drought. Head coach Brian Kalbas said the team reviewed and studied video to prepare for Georgia's doubles teams in practice on Thursday and right before Friday’s match.
“Abbey in particular saw exactly what I was talking about and what she needed to do,” he said.
The pair came out on top in three out of four decisive deuce points in their 6-1 victory.
Forbes was all over the court, aggressive at the net and unwavering in the backcourt. A Forbes overhead launched into the far corner earned the UNC doubles team its first deuce win and a 1-0 lead. Crawley also held her ground during long rallies, winning the final deuce point and clinching the match.
Officially earning the doubles point, senior Elizabeth Scotty and sophomore Carson Tanguilig won half of their match’s deuce points in their 6-2 win on court two. Even when the Bulldogs fought back from down 15-40 to deuce, the pair finished out their games and prevented Georgia from gaining momentum.
Kalbas said the doubles point clinch was a representation of a complete performance, and the team was “giddy” in the huddle after taking the early lead.
“They were just like, ‘Wow, this is uncharted territory,'” he said.
Scotty’s dominance in deuce points continued in her singles play, allowing her to grab points from four out of seven deuce games. Her 6-4, 6-4 victory added the final point to the scoreboard and clinched the Tar Heel win.
After winning a key breakpoint to pull ahead 4-3 in the first set, Scotty faced a late-set push from Georgia first-year Anastasiia Lopata, leading to another deuce point. Withstanding a long back-and-forth rally, the North Carolina senior nailed a return down the line to an unreachable spot to win the set and prevent Lopata from tying the game score 5-5.
With every tied game and set score, Scotty had an answer. And, in the second set, when the set score was tied for the last time, she pushed ahead and won, allowing the Tar Heels to inch closer to victory. So, when Lopata’s final shot hit into the net and Scotty clinched the match in UNC’s favor, she threw her arms out and cheered.
Though she said she prefers to be the first point on the board, Scotty said she will do anything to help her team.
“It's always great to be the clinch, but I always say anyone who's competing out on the court has such an impact,” she said. “Everyone on the sidelines has such an impact.”
That connection between UNC teammates is what makes this year’s team so special and unique, Kalbas said. He said togetherness will be what the team relies on in the championship match-up — through every close point.
“We feel that if we bring our brand of team tennis, whether we win or lose, we're going to feel good about it,” he said. “We've been doing that so far. So, if we can play nine matches strong, 10 players tough tomorrow, then we’ll feel really good about it.”
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