All season long the No. 13 Wake Forest men's tennis team has had a knack for theatrics. This was no different in the last home match of the season against No. 16 North Carolina. The youthful Deacs endured tough 4-3 losses to both Duke and NC State. But this time, Wake gutted out a fist-clenching 4-3 victory over their in-state rival.
With the Spirit of the Old Gold and Black and a large crowd on hand, the tension was evident from the first ball. The Tar Heels struck at first doubles, 8-6, snapping the 13-match win streak for freshmen Christian Seraphim and Skander Mansouri. Moments later, Romain Bogaerts and Keivon Tabrizi shrieked, signaling an 8-6 victory at third doubles. With the doubles point up in the air, the stage was set.
The second doubles team of Noah Rubin and Jon Ho were knotted up in a tiebreaker. Trailing 3-1, Ho's power and Rubin's wits kept the Deacs in striking distance. The duo won six of the final eight points to take the tiebreaker 7-5 and jolt Wake out to an early 1-0 lead.
With the momentum on their side, Wake quickly took the first set on all six singles courts. At sixth singles, sophomore Maksim Kan mixed in his powerful forehand and a deceptive slice backhand for the 6-3, 6-3 win. Soon after, No. 13 Bogaerts won a closer-than-the-score 6-2, 6-3 over No. 24 Ronnie Schneider to put Wake merely one win away from the victory. All looked good for the Wake racquetmen.
But the suspenseful drama only just begun. The Tar Heels methodically chipped away at Wake's "insurmountable" 3-0 lead. One fan even joked that these North Carolina tennis players must all be theater majors based on their propensity to act: shrieking after a point, whining to a line judge, faking an injury. To which I responded, at least these UNC athletes are going to school!
At fifth singles, Christian Seraphim lost 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. The German Isner could not capitalize on his opportunities in the second set and lost his long legs against a fit, speedy opponent in the third set.
The final three courts (1st, 3rd, 4th) all split sets and the Tar Heels needed all three to complete the miraculous upset. At third singles, Mansouri held match points in the second set, but lost in a dramatic 8-6 tiebreaker. Ho, at fourth singles, was up a break in the second set, but lost 6-4.
With the drama at its climax, the match slowed down for Noah Rubin, facing No. 15 Brayden Schnur. In the third set, Rubin exuded supreme confidence and moved Schnur around the court to near exhaustion. The number-one player in the region needed to hit four-to-five elite shots to get a single ball past the cat-like speed of Rubin. Coming off of his second ACC Player of the Week Award, Rubin sliced-and-diced and slipped-and-dipped the ball to perfection, in route to a 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-2 win to seal the win for Wake. His final set was a piece of performing arts.
Mansouri ultimately lost 3-6, 7-6 (6), 7-5 and Ho was defeated 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 to close out the 4-3 win over North Carolina.
The win moved Wake Forest (18-6, 7-3) into fourth place in the ACC, behind only Virginia, Virginia Tech and Duke. The Demon Deacons close the season out with two winnable road matches against Notre Dame and Boston College. The ACC Tournament begins the following week.
With competition at an all-time high in the ACC, Wake Forest has set themselves up for some more theatrical and dramatic performances down the road.