There may have been an ape in the stands, but Duke was not monkeying around against Elon Wednesday.
The 16th-ranked Blue Devils (5-4) swept the doubles matches on their way to a 6-1 victory over the Phoenix (9-2) at Ambler Stadium.
Senior Joey Atas fell at the No. 1 singles spot, but the rest of Duke's singles competitors all won in straight sets to secure the comfortable victory in the Blue Devils' first match in more than two weeks.
And cheering them on was their biggest fan, T-Bone the Big Tennis Gorilla. Donning a gorilla suit he said he had lying around, as well as a Duke Tennis shirt, goggles and sweatbands and with a banana in hand, T-Bone has attended all the team's home games this season. T-Bone said he hopes to dispel the notion of tennis matches having a stuffy atmosphere, and of course to intimidate Duke's competition.
"The best part is that no one knows why a gorilla would be at a tennis match," T-Bone said. "The whole point is to get in the head of the opponent. When they see a gorilla with a banana in his hand cheering for Duke, you can't beat it."
T-Bone saw a Duke team that showed little rust from the extended break, as head coach Jay Lapidus said the respite allowed the team to improve its collective health. The 11th-ranked doubles pair of junior David Goulet and Atas secured an 8-4 victory as the Blue Devils became the first team to take the doubles point from Elon.
The match was a good tune-up for Duke, which travels to Texas for an extended road trip over spring break. The trip will include matches against No. 13 Texas, No. 35 Texas A&M and TCU.
"I thought it was a perfect match for us preparing for Texas because we've had a little bit of a break," Lapidus said. "They are trying to build a program there, and they were very feisty, especially in singles."
The wind picked up about midway through the singles matches, forcing both sides to opt for the safer shots. Lapidus said the conditions were good preparation for Duke's trip to Texas, where wind is often an influence.
"It is a little bit of a factor, but then again, it is the same for both players," senior Peter Rodrigues said of the wind. "It's an issue in terms of playing-wise-it's not as good quality. You have to be a little more conservative and not go for lines."
Rodrigues pulled out a hard-fought 7-6, 6-1 victory over Mason Schermerhorn at the No. 2 singles spot to put Duke up 3-1. Freshman Dylan Arnould, who played in spite of being sick, finished out a 7-5, 6-2 win in the No. 5 singles match to seal the win for the Blue Devils.
Rodrigues, who is ranked 63rd in the country, recovered from a slow start and capitalized from his tiebreaker win in the first set to cruise through the second.
"He was serving well, so it was hard to break him in the first set," Rodrigues said. "In the second set, I managed to break him in the first game, and I think he got a little discouraged, and I was able to finish it out from there."