Henrique Cunha was nowhere to be found on court one when the Blue Devils began singles play against Michigan Saturday afternoon. The No. 10 singles player in the nation was instead sitting in the gallery with an injury, immersing his left pinky finger in a cup of ice water while the rest of his teammates squared off against a pack of Wolverines looking for redemption.
No. 6 Duke (9-4) struggled without Cunha in the singles ladder and suffered a narrow 4-3 defeat to Michigan just days after receiving its first top-10 ranking of the season. The No. 23 Wolverines (6-3) avenged a 7-0 defeat at the hands of the Blue Devils a month ago.
“Michigan’s a really good team,” head coach Ramsey Smith said. “They were hungry and ready to go, and we just couldn’t quite get it done. We need to get some guys healthy and get our full-strength lineup out there, but even so, we still need to find a way to win three singles points with the guys we have out there.”
Cunha injured his finger at a crucial point in his doubles match with Reid Carleton. With the score knotted up at 6-6, Cunha and Carleton needed a victory in order to capture the doubles point for Duke. The Brazilian went to the ground attempting to return a volley and was unable to brace the fall, landing on his hand.
“It looks like he sprained it a little bit,” Smith said of the injury. “Hopefully it’s not too bad.”
Cunha did not retire right away, however, and finished out the match with his finger taped. Despite playing in obvious discomfort, Cunha continued to battle and the duo forced a tiebreaker and ultimately won 9-8 (7-3).
Singles competition was a different story, as Cunha’s absence forced every Duke player to move up one spot in the rotation with David Holland filling in at the No. 6 slot. The move did not faze Jared Pinsky, who scored an easy 6-2, 6-2 victory over Chris Madden at the No. 4 position.
But the Wolverines grabbed the momentum from that point onward and wasted little time evening the overall score at 2-2. Justin Rossi knocked off Holland in straight sets, and Evan King made quick work of Carleton, taking him down 6-3, 6-2. Carleton was not in top form, though, due to an illness, Smith said.
“It was a really good effort for him to finish the match and be out there,” the coach said. “He’s had the flu, and with Cunha out he kind of took one for the team.”
After Fred Saba pulled out a three-set win and Luke Marchese lost in three sets, the stage was set for the decisive conclusion of the match between Jason Jung and freshman Chris Mengel on court two. Jung rallied after losing the first set 6-4, taking the second 6-2 and then proceeded to break Mengel early in the third set. Mengel did his best to come back from a 5-3 deficit in the third, but the senior experience of his opponent prevailed. Jung captured the final set 6-4 and gave Michigan its biggest upset victory of the season.
“That’s a tough one, but it’s another learning experience for a freshman who’s probably going to be a foundation of our program over the next couple of years,” Smith said of Mengel.