Duke men's tennis ends hiatus with NCAA tournament rematch
After a rare 17-day break in the middle of the their season, the Blue Devils will look to shake off any rust caused by Winter Storm Pax in one of their final tune-ups before conference play.
After being forced to withdraw from the ITA National Indoors due to the ‘Snowpocalypse,’ No. 17 Duke is set to play in a match that was not announced until last Thursday. In a rematch of last year's NCAA tournament, the Blue Devils will host Coastal Carolina Thursday at 2:30 p.m. at Ambler Tennis Stadium.
“The Indoors was an unfortunate situation,” head coach Ramsey Smith said. “Kind of a bizarre deal where we just couldn’t get there. We did schedule this extra match because of that, and we’re just excited to play a dual match. It’s been a longer break than we anticipated.”
Scheduling the match on such short notice was no easy feat, as teams often create their schedules years in advance. Additionally, teams only have a certain number of matches they are allowed to play.
Luckily for the Blue Devils (5-3), the Chanticleers (6-3) had an open date and were willing to make the trip to Durham.
“I’m friends with Chris Powers, their coach,” Smith said, “I know they had a rainout so they were also in a similar situation where they were looking to add a match, and it was able to work out with them with scheduling. I’m really glad it all worked out, and we’re excited to play.”
The Blue Devils missed the ITA National Indoors despite taking down both Oregon and North Carolina in the qualifiers. It was the first time since 2010 that the team did not participate in the tournament.
“It was a big disappointment for the guys,” Smith said. “I felt horrible for them because they worked really hard to earn that spot with the top 16 teams in the country. We talked about how we want to handle it and use it as motivation and play the rest of the season with a little chip on our shoulder.”
This extended break has also enabled the team to use the extra practice time to hone in on some of its weaknesses.
“We’ve been able to do a lot more individual workouts in the mornings,” Smith said. “I feel like that’s incredibly productive and where people make the big jumps. The guys that come out and put in the extra work tend to get better.”
On top of the extra practice time Duke received, the prolonged break also gave players more time to heal from injuries.
Sophomore Bruno Semenzato is now fully healthy and ranked in the top 100 nationally for the first time in his collegiate career. The break also gave junior Raphael Hemmeler extra time to get over a nagging wrist injury.
“To be honest, [Bruno] wasn’t going to be able to play in the Indoors,” Smith said. “He’s worked really hard with his rehab and he’s back at 100 percent. [Hemmeler] has been dealing with a wrist thing and the extra time off helped him, and he’s playing as well as he has all year.”
Although the Blue Devils swept Coastal Carolina in the first round of last year's NCAA tournament, they have no room to overlook the Chanticleers. Duke learned the downside of overlooking an opponent when it lost its season-opener to Elon—the first time the Blue Devils had fallen to the Phoenix in program history.
After going more than two weeks without a match, expect Duke to be on its toes when Costal Carolina comes to town.
“They’re a good team having a good year,” Smith said. “I think they’re at a level similar to Elon, and Elon beat us, so we need to make sure we are ready to go.”