UNC scores upset
on historic NCAA QF day
Arthur Kapetanakis | May 17, 2019
ORLANDO, Fla. – The NCAA Championships arrived with a bang at the USTA National Campus, with the first-ever day of tournament play at the facility showcasing the heart-pumping thrill ride that college tennis so often provides.
On men’s quarterfinal day, No. 2 Texas, No. 3 Florida, No. 4 Wake Forest and No. 9 North Carolina all advanced to Saturday’s semifinals. Two wins were straightforward. Two were anything but.
Peaking at the right time is crucial in a long college season, and the North Carolina Tar Heels timed today’s effort to perfection: the Chapel Hill outfit scored the biggest result of its season on perhaps the biggest stage ever for college tennis.
In the day’s third match, and the first-ever NCAA tournament match broadcast on Tennis Channel, UNC took out the top-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes in a 4-2 thriller that came down to a pair of three-set battles.ADVERTISEMENT
In the end, it was sophomore Benjamin Sigouin who sealed the upset with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over John McNally at the No. 2 spot. The Tar Heels jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead, but were down a set in the remaining four matches as the drama built. The Buckeyes soon closed to 3-2, but UNC mounted comebacks from a break down in the second set on Courts 2 and 6 to wrestle back control, needing just one more point to advance.
Sigouin was on course to clinch it, as he parlayed his second-set surge into a 3-0 lead in set three. But Ohio State sophomore McNally fought back to lead, 4-3.
While the No. 6 singles match seesawed both ways, Sigouin scratched out a 5-4 advantage just before his teammate edged in front by the same score on Court 6. With the Tar Heels four points (on either court) away from the upset, it was Sigouin who finished the job, sending the Heels into the Final Four.
“It was tense,” the sophomore said of the closing moments. “I caught myself looking at the scoreboard a bit over there [on Court 6], but I always believe in Simon [Soendergaard] and he was doing a great job over there. I just had to take care of my own court.”
With the Carolina women’s team also competing in Orlando, former UNC basketball player Luke Maye was one of many Tar Heel fans who made the trip to support both programs.
The day’s other thriller came, unsurprisingly, in an opening match that pitted the defending NCAA champions against the 2013 and 2015-17 champs.
After a slew of twists and turns, Wake Forest kept its title defense alive by dismissing blue-blood Virginia, 4-2. With the match poised at 3-2, just the Top 2 courts remained. Wake junior Petros Chrysochos had two match points in a second-set tiebreaker, but UVA freshman Brandon Nakashima won four points in a row to force a decider.
Amidst the drama of the Court 2 tiebreak, Gojo leveled the No. 1 singles match at one set all against Carl Soderlund. With the crowd’s energy focused on the adjacent court, Gojo found an extra burst himself to edge ahead in set three.
“That’s what I’ve talked to my coaches about a lot. Straight away they’re like, ‘Nothing is happening there, nothing is happening there, you’ve got to focus.’ And that’s how it is. [Chrysochos] has two match points one moment, the other moment they’re gone and where are you? You’ve got to be focused on your court.”
He would continue to ride that momentum to victory in what became a battle of fitness, to send the Demon Deacons to the semifinals. His 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 decision completed a comeback from an early deficit, after his team dropped the doubles point by losing the decisive No. 3 flight in a tiebreaker.
As that match was wrapping up, Texas was putting the finishing touches on a 4-1 win that was closer than the scoreline suggests. After taking the doubles point, the Longhorns took the first set in the No. 2-6 singles matches, though TCU won at least four games at each flight and forced tiebreaks at No. 3 and 4.
In an ITA Top-10 singles battle at the top spot, TCU senior Alex Rybakov handled Christian Sigsgaard, 6-4, 6-2., avenging a three-set loss from earlier in the year. Unfortunately for the Horned Frogs, it was their only point of the day against a locked-in Texas team.
It was Texas' second win over their Big 12 rivals this season. They also faced off in April, and both teams put out identical lineups from what was a 6-1 regular-season victory for the Longhorns.
Florida closed out Day 1 in Orlando with a 4-0 win under the lights. As the only Florida team still in the men’s or women’s NCAA draw, the No. 3-seeded Gators felt like the home team as they knocked out No. 6 Baylor, 4-0.
The Gators took a tight doubles point, when Johannes Ingildsen and McClain Kessler defeated the ITA’s No. 1 doubles tandem of Jimmy Bendeck and Sven Lah, 7-5.
After Kessler, a senior, scored a quick win at No. 6 singles, Florida had match-point balls in play on Courts 2 and 5 simultaneously, needing just two more victories to clinch the overall match. Sam Riffice, whose mother is a USTA Player Development coach at the National Campus, ended up with the clinching win, topping Baylor’s Matias Soto, 6-3, 6-4, at the No. 2 spot.
“It was amazing,” said Riffice. “The crowd tonight, so many Gator fans out there watching us and supporting us. We had so many friends that came out all the way from Gainesville to come support us. I felt like I was playing a home match out there. There was so much energy and excitement for us.”
The men will be back in action on Saturday, as they make way for the women’s quarterfinals on Friday. Texas and Florida will square off in a 2-3 semifinal matchup, while Wake Forest takes on North Carolina in an in-state, ACC battle.
Live coverage of the NCAA Championships will continue to be featured on Tennis Channel throughout the weekend.
For more, visit the USTA National Campus tournament homepage.