Duke men's tennis ousts Winthrop, advances to NCAA Team Championship second roundDuke sprinted out to an early 3-0 lead against Winthrop, but had difficulty shutting the door on the Eagles. Luckily for the Blue Devils, T.J. Pura was able to come up with the needed victory at sixth singles.
Playing within the friendly confines of Ambler Tennis Stadium, No. 11 Duke swept Winthrop 4-0 to advance to the second round of the NCAA Championship. After registering three quick points with minimal resistance, the remaining four singles matches were hotly contested before Pura pulled away from Michael Chen.
The Blue Devils will host Tennessee Sunday at 2 p.m. for the right to advance to the Round of 16. The Volunteers advanced to Sunday's second-round match with a 4-1 victory against Elon.
“We took care of business today, and I thought it was good that we got pushed in some spots,” Duke head coach Ramsey Smith said. “We had a couple guys in some tough pressure situations, and they came through. I think that will help us for tomorrow against Tennessee.”
The match looked anything but pressure-filled after the doubles point. Duke's duo of Jason Tahir and Josh Levine cruised to an 8-1 victory against Steven Patrick and Tremayne Mitchell, and Bruno Semenzato and Cale Hammond secured the doubles point for the Blue Devils with an 8-2 triumph against Juan Pablo Boada and Corey Decandia.
Leading 1-0 heading into singles play, Duke (20-6) wasted no time adding to its lead. Junior Raphael Hemmeler coasted to a 6-0, 6-1 win at third singles against Patrick, earning his 20th victory of the season. No. 32 Tahir followed his classmate's lead, closing out Yuta Hirokawa in straight sets, 6-0, 6-4.
Backed into a corner and one point away from seeing their season come to an end, the Eagles (16-10) made a push to claw back into the match.
Semenzato, ranked No. 89 nationally, blanked Mitchell in the first set 6-0 at fourth singles, but Mitchell fought back to claim the second set, 6-3. On court five, Levine dropped the first set 4-6 but rebounded to take the second from Boada 6-4. No. 44 Fred Saba was pushed by Dylan Comerford at second singles but claimed the first set 7-5.
“In singles, we won half the first sets 6-0 and looked to be in a really good position,” Smith said. “I think it was a combination of us relaxing just a little bit and Winthrop fighting extremely well. It ended up being their last match of the season, and for their seniors, it was their last college tennis match. They fought really hard and pushed us, and that last point was tough.”
With three close contests going on beside him, Pura found himself embroiled in one of his own. But the freshman rose to the occasion for the Blue Devils.
Pura had few problems with Winthrop's Michael Chen in the first set but encountered resistance in the second. The Pacific Palisades, Calif., native was able to defeat Chen in a second-set tiebreak, clinching the match 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) and sending Duke on to Sunday afternoon's second round matchup against Tennessee.
“Tournament tennis is different than anything you get during the regular season since it’s survive and advance,” Pura said. “You’ve just got to compete every point. You definitely feel a little bit more nerves than normal.... You’ve also got to expect your opponents to play their best tennis. Credit to Winthrop for giving us a tough fight today.”