Football fans like to say that it’s hard to beat a team three times in the same season. Even if that were true, it seems like it doesn’t extend to tennis, as the Virginia Cavaliers beat the UNC Tar Heels for the third time this season, this time for the NCAA Championship. After moving indoors for a rain delay, the match began in Athens in front of what seemed to be a Tar Heel-favoring crowd.
The doubles matches were very interesting, as the #1 pair of William Blumberg and Robert Kelly made quick work of their opponents (6-2), while the #3 pair of Anu Kodali and Ronnie Schneider were quickly beaten 1-6. The #2 match stayed on serve through to 6-6. In the tiebreaker, despite senior Jack Murray’s best efforts, a couple of freshman mistakes from Simon Soendergaard led to the Heels losing the tiebreaker, 5-7, and Virginia took the doubles point. From there, it was on to the six singles matches.
The top four singles matches, similar to the doubles matches, were evenly lopsided. All four were decided in straight sets and every set but one was won by more than one break. UNC’s #2 William Blumberg continued his excellent afternoon with a 3,2 cleanup of nationally 14th-ranked Thai-Son Kwiatkowski, and his doubles partner, UNC #3 Robert Kelly won an easy first set 6-2 before coming back from 0-3 down to finish Carl Soderlund 6-2, 6-4.
Here’s Blumberg breaking and holding to get to 5-1 in the second:
Blumberg breaks & holds, 5-1 pic.twitter.com/XZOyq67ht8— UNC Men's Tennis (@carolinatennis) May 23, 2017
And here’s the end of Kelly’s match point:
UVA 3 UNC 2 RKelly serves his way to 6-2, 6-4 win over Soderlund pic.twitter.com/7azZTmznqi— UNC Men's Tennis (@carolinatennis) May 23, 2017
Unfortunately, UNC’s #1 and national #22 Ronnie Schneider did not fare as well, almost getting blanked in the first set and generally seeming off his game. He put up more of a fight in the second set, but ultimately couldn’t break through, falling to national #91 Alexander Ritschard 1-6, 3-6.
Soendergaard, at the #4 spot, continued to struggle with the bright lights of the NCAA Championship. After a tight 3-6 loss in his first set against Colin Altamirano, Soendergaard fell apart in the second, quickly getting broken twice en route to a 3-6, 1-6 loss. With UVA up 3-2 at this point, UNC needed victories from the #5 and #6 men in order to take the victory, and it was here that UVA’s renowned depth and experience came into play.
North Carolina’s Jack Murray jumped out to a 4-2 lead in the first before his opponent, JC Aragone, came back to tie it up at 4-4 and force a tiebreak at 6-6, which Aragone proceeded to dominate 7-2. He proceeded to ride that momentum into an early break, and finished the match 6-7, 2-6, sealing the victory for UVA. At the other court, Bo Boyden had not been faring much better, having lost the first set 4-6 and being down a break when the other match was called.
It was clear from watching that the UVA players had already been on the biggest stage before, having won the 2015 and 2016 championships. Their composure was evident. This isn’t to say that UNC looked outwardly unprepared or not composed, but there were several unforced errors on the Tar Heel side that looked a lot like nervous misses, and significantly fewer on the Virginia side.
That said, the Heels had a very successful season, beating #1 seed Wake Forest and hometown Georgia on the way to the NCAA Finals. With the abundance of youth on the roster, North Carolina should be primed to make another run next year with the experience of 2017 under their belts.