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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC men's tennis falls at Duke for third consecutive year

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UNC graduate student Anuj Watane during a singles match against Duke at Ambler Tennis Stadium on Saturday, April. 5, 2024. UNC lost 5-2.

DURHAM, N.C. — Standing just outside Duke’s Ambler Tennis Stadium, UNC head coach Sam Paul used the bottom of his shoe to scuff up dirt with visible discouragement. In tune with his downcast posture, he uttered a simple postgame synopsis.

“Not our day,” Paul said.

The event that led to the coach’s frustration was the North Carolina men’s tennis team’s third consecutive defeat to Duke on Saturday afternoon. The Blue Devils beat the Tar Heels 5-2, which dropped UNC to fifth in the ACC standings, breaking a conference tie between the two rivals.

Duke’s dominance began early, as UNC conceded the doubles point in only two sets — losing 6-4 and 6-2. Paul took the fall for the poor start, claiming he did a bad job in preparing his team.

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UNC graduate student Phillip Jordan celebrates a point during a doubles match against Duke at Ambler Tennis Stadium on Saturday, April. 5, 2024. UNC lost 5-2.

The coach of 30-plus years was quick to rattle off a short list of mistakes that added up to UNC’s downfall early on. Problems like playing the wrong moves, not making first serves or serving to the wrong spots on the court culminated in the early 1-point deficit. 

“We just didn't execute," Paul said.

As singles matches began, a similar story developed on almost every court. Sophomore Benjamin Kittay fell behind three games to none on court one. Beside him, graduate Phillip Jordan trailed 5-1 on court two, as fellow graduate Karl Poling dropped his first four games on court three.

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UNC sophomore Benjamin Kittay celebrates after scoring a point during a doubles match against Duke at Ambler Tennis Stadium on Saturday, April. 5, 2024. UNC lost 5-2.

The Tar Heels’ three best singles players struggled to gain any momentum against their Blue Devil opponents. A ruckus home grandstand piled on greater pressure against UNC, as players like Jordan began to show evident frustration. 

After a number of double faults and a 6-1 loss in the first set, Jordan simply held out his hands and shrugged his shoulders toward assistant coach Tripp Phillips. The UC Santa Barbara transfer seemed to be at his wit’s end as he was the first Tar Heel to lose a singles match. 

“Duke’s got really good players at [courts] one and two, but we can play better than that,” Paul said. “We know that. We’ve been competitive at every match we’ve played.”

Down on court four, first-year Patrick Schoen was the only Tar Heel to make noise throughout his match. The Swiss native won in two sets (6-2, 6-3), with a dominant performance backed by a large group of supporters just over his shoulder. Whenever Schoen aced his opponent — which was quite often on the evening — the point was met with “Schoeny” chants and an occasional, “Are you not entertained?” by his friends and family.

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UNC first-year Patrick Schoen strikes the ball during a doubles match against Duke at Ambler Tennis Stadium on Saturday, April. 5, 2024. UNC lost 5-2.

“The crowd definitely helped me out. They were super loud and every point they were behind me,” he said. “It kind of gave me more trust and confidence, and it made a big difference.”

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UNC first-year Patrick Schoen celebrates after scoring a point during a doubles match against Duke at Ambler Tennis Stadium on Saturday, April. 5, 2024. UNC lost 5-2.

However, the lone point Schoen gave UNC was not enough to mount an eventual comeback, as North Carolina continued to struggle until the Blue Devils had won enough matches to claim the victory early, 4-1.

Although not a day that belonged to North Carolina, Paul noted it would be one to learn from. UNC will have to refocus ahead of road matchups with N.C. State and Wake Forest before the ACC tournament begins on April 17.

@cadeshoemaker23

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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