The Blue Devils enter their second weekend of team competition after a disappointing start to the season.
No. 17 Duke will compete in the ITA Kick-Off Weekend with a match against Oregon Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center. The Blue Devils hope to recover from two tough losses last weekend, one of which made program history as the first-ever loss to Elon.
“It was not the start we were looking for, but it is what it is, and I think we learned from it,” head coach Ramsey Smith said. “We’re certainly looking forward to this weekend and playing better and trying to get all eight guys clicking at the same time.”
Duke’s back-to-back 4-3 losses to Elon and No. 9 Kentucky did not come easily—there were a total of 12 set tiebreakers during the course of the two matches. The team was able to bounce back and defeat N.C. Central 7-0 just hours after falling to the Wildcats, giving the Blue Devils (1-2) a win to carry into the match against Oregon (3-0).
“We played tentative and a little bit tight last weekend, and I want our guys to swing away and go after it instead of hoping for the results we want to get,” Smith said. “Each match we’ve improved, and we’re looking for some big improvements this weekend as well.”
Duke and Oregon have never met in a dual match. The Ducks—though undefeated—have not played a ranked team yet this season and failed to advance to last year’s NCAA tournament. However, Smith noted Oregon’s win against Stanford last season, a team Duke has lost to in seven out of eight matchups.
“They have some good new players and some solid returning players, and they’re a good team,” Smith said. “We’re making sure not to look ahead, we’re treating it as one match, and if we’re able to advance, then we’ll focus on the next match.”
With a win against Oregon, the Blue Devils will play again Sunday, facing either San Diego State or North Carolina in the championship match at 4 p.m. The two losing teams from Saturday will play in a consolation match, and the champion will advance to the ITA National Team Indoor Championship beginning Feb. 14 in Houston.
Duke has both hosted the ITA Kick-Off Weekend and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Indoor Championship for the past two years. This year, the matches are following a different scoring format, including no-ad scoring and tiebreakers played at 5-5. The changes intend to shorten the duration of the matches.
“You have to focus more on every point, because you can win a game more quickly,” junior Jason Tahir said. “I think it’s really important that we come out with a lot of energy in this scoring format because the matches will max probably take around three hours.”
Despite an unfamiliar scoring system, Duke has played in a familiar setting for all three if its first matches, and will continue to do so for the next three bouts of competition. Two of the four teams competing in the Kick-Off Weekend will travel across the country to compete. But the Blue Devils—along with crosstown rival North Carolina—will remain comfortably local throughout the competition.
“It’s nice to [play in Durham] because it’s all based on last year’s ranking, so we worked all of last year in order to be able to host,” Smith said. “We have great fans, so it’s nice to be home this weekend.”
At 1-2, Duke enters the weekend with its worst record since the 2001-02 season. Despite the early setback, the team will look to improve upon the past two years’ success at the ITA Indoor Championships, beginning with a successful weekend at home.
“We were pretty disappointed with the team performance this past weekend, and we probably took the worst loss in program history [against Elon], so I think we’re all just looking to bounce back from that,” Tahir said. “We’re just trying to work on some of the mistakes we made.… [We] hope we can implement our improvements in the match, regardless of who we play.”