North Carolina fought past the nation's top-ranked team and a nearly five-hour rain delay on Saturday to earn a spot in the NCAA Men's Tennis Tournament semifinals for the first time in program history. The ninth-ranked Tar Heels defeated No. 1 Wake Forest 4-2 in a match that spanned eight hours, finishing up just after the stroke of midnight on Sunday morning at the Dan Magill Tennis Center in Athens, Ga.
Raleigh native (Wakefield HS) Boyden's clinching point at exactly 12 am Sunday, 8 hours after the drama began pic.twitter.com/IBFqg9cTc8— UNC Men's Tennis (@carolinatennis) May 21, 2017
“I'm so proud of my team,” UNC coach Sam Paul said. “They were focused and ready to go. They handled everything.”
With the win, the Tar Heels advance to face host Georgia on Monday in a semifinals matchup. The 13th-seeded Bulldogs upset No. 4 UCLA 4-2 in a match that also included the long delay. Earlier on Saturday, No. 2 Virginia and No. 3 Ohio State advanced and will meet in the other semifinal. Both final four matches are set for noon on Monday.
UNC is now 28-4 overall, tying the program record for wins in a season, which was set last spring.
“Congratulations to Wake Forest on a great year,” Paul said. “They've got a great team. “
The Tar Heels and Demon Deacons met previously this season, with Wake Forest winning 4-3 on its home court on March 10. UNC lost the doubles point in that match but managed to reverse that start on Saturday. On Court 2, senior Jack Murray and freshman Simon Soendergaard pulled out a 6-4 win, but Wake Forest's fourth-ranked team of Skander Mansouri and Christian Seraphim earned a 7-5 win over UNC's 12th-ranked Robert Kelly and William Blumberg on Court 1. That brought the point down to Court 3, where Tar Heel senior Ronnie Schneider and sophomore Anu Kodali clinched it with a 6-2 win.
In singles, the first through fourth spots saw hotly-contested first sets, while the Tar Heels claimed the others 6-2. Murray earned a speedy win on Court 5, where he followed the 6-2 first set win over Dennis Uspensky with a 6-0 victory in the second to make it 2-0 Tar Heels. “That player beat him in the regular season 2 and 1,” Paul said, “and Jack sets the tone for us. Just a fantastic performance.”
Murray was the only player to have finished his singles match when the weather delay began. It stretched into a nearly five-hour wait before play finally resumed on the outdoor courts around 11 p.m. Paul was pleased with the way his team handled the stoppage in play and the uncertainty that went with it. “They just rolled with it,” he said. “It was a pretty loose locker room. I knew they were feeling good so I felt good about us coming back out.”
On Court 1, WFU's Petros Chrysocos edged Carolina's Ronnie Schneider on a tiebreaker in the first set and led 1-0 at the stoppage. After play resumed, Chrysocos cruised on to a 6-2 win and a point for the Demon Deacons.
Wake then evened the match at 2-2 with Mansouri beating Kelly 7-5, 6-4 on Court 3.
On Court 2, Blumberg fought to a 7-5 first-set win over Borna Gojo in a battle between the only two freshmen to make this season's All-Atlantic Coast Conference first team. At the time of the break, Gojo led 3-0 in the second set, but after play resumed Blumberg tied it up at 4-4. The two ultimately went into a tiebreaker, which Blumberg won 8-6 to give the Tar Heels the edge again.
UNC was then a point away from a landmark victory, needing either sophomore Blaine Boyden (up 5-2 in the third set at No. 6) or Soendergaard (trailing 3-2 at No. 4) to win in order to extend the season one more match. Boyden, who won his first set 6-2 then lost 6-1 in the second, was the first to head into a third set and ultimately the last to finish one. When he downed Alan Gadijev with a 6-2 win in the third, Boyden whipped off his shirt and ignited a UNC celebration.
“It is a dream come true, honestly,” Boyden said. “Last night, (associate head coach) Tripp Phillipsreally sat me down and told me, ‘yesterday, you weren't the hero, but tomorrow you can bounce back.' That is the great thing about our team. We have a bunch of guys that compete and today was the day that I stepped up and sent the team to the semifinals.