Wake Forest came to Chapel Hill Wednesday afternoon for a top-5 match-up and handed the Heels their first ACC loss. Both teams are now even at 4-1 in ACC.
At first, doubles looked like it was going to be a grind, a close fight. And then it wasn’t. Soon enough, the Demon Deacons managed to break down the Heels and win 6-4, 6-3 courts 2 and 3, respectively.
The Heels have dropped the doubles points before this season and come back to win, so without too much concern, match focus shifted quickly to singles play.
“Coach Paul does a really good job just getting everyone ready to go,” said Bo Boyden. “Obviously, the doubles point was tough to lose, but it’s a long match and you’ve just got to sit down and focus on your own match.”
Focus is what the Heels did. The Heels opened singles play with four first set victories and looked to be on solid footing as the match set in. Despite No. 30 Skander Mansouri of Wake Forest defeating UNC’s No. 99 Robert Kelly 6-4, 6-4 in straight sets and putting Wake up 2-0 for the match, the Heels managed to pull one back right away.
It didn’t take long for one of those first set victories to turn into a second set victory for Carolina. Bo Boyden, locked in on court five, won his matches handily, defeating his opponent Rrezart Cungu, 6-2, 6-2.
The afternoon would prove to be a continuous uphill battle though and right after pulling one back, No. 7 Retros Crysochos defeated No. 34 Ben Sigouin 5-7, 3-6 on court 2. The Heels were then down 1-3 on the match, but even still, they didn’t give in.
No. 2 Will Blumberg, on court 1, grabbed a hard-fought 6-4, 7-5 win to keep the Tar Heels in play. Not long after, Mac Kiger on court 6 levelled the match 3-3 with his identical 6-4, 7-5 victories.
The result of the match rested with court 3 where Simon Soendergaard and Wake’s Bar Botzer just started their third set. Soendergaard had defeated Botzer 6-1 in the first set, lost 5-7 in the second and was staying even with his opponent, levelling the third set 3 all before falling behind to lose 3-6. The sophomore from Denmark battled relentlessly, but couldn’t find his rhythm in the last three games of the match and the Heels comeback ended just shy of victory.
Although he praised his players for their singles efforts, Coach Paul was not satisfied with his team’s doubles performance. “We've got to play a complete match,” said the head coach. “We've got to play better doubles. I’m not pleased with how we played in doubles.”
The team isn’t dwelling on the negatives of the loss, though. Instead, they’re looking ahead, using the loss as a teaching moment to push toward what really matters, getting back to the NCAAs in May.
“They played really well in doubles,” said Coach Paul. “I knew our guys wouldn't quit and it comes down to the last match, and there we go … a couple points here and there. They outplayed us in a couple of spots but I think we learned a lot today about our team. I told our team, 'The prize is in May.' We've got some more work to do.”
This sentiment was repeated by both Bo Boyden and Ben Sigouin after the match. “It was difficult,” said Sigouin. “Obviously, they’re number one in the nation for a reason, but we were right there. It was difficult, but we’ll improve.”
“Obviously it’s tough, coming out of a loss, but this kind of proves to us that we’re extremely close to where we want to be,” said Boyden. “Our goal is in May, but this just proves to us that we’re right there with the best teams in the country and if we put in a little more work we’re going to be accomplishing what we want, which is the important thing.”