Last year Duke had Beatrice Capra, this year it has Michael Redlicki.
Two weeks ago, freshman Michael Redlicki was not preparing for the rush of the first week of college like every other student—he was not even on campus. Instead, he was saving three consecutive match points in a third set thriller with his doubles partner on one of tennis’ biggest stages—the U.S. Open.
After moving into Randolph dorm, the Illinois native jetted off to Flushing Meadows, N.Y. to prepare for his first round match alongside partner Denis Novikov of UCLA. The pair, who met at a tournament in California in February, had only played two tournaments together prior to the U.S. Open. The first one was in early July and ended prematurely after Redlicki was sidelined with an injury. In August, they played their second tournament, the USTA Boys 18 National Championship in Kalamazoo, Mich., which gives both its singles and doubles winners a spot in the U.S. Open. Unlike their first tournament together, this one ended in a victory, giving the duo a wildcard berth into the prestigious Grand Slam.
“After four match points we finally got one,” Redlicki said. “I remember we were playing on our match point and I hit a really good forehand through one of our opponent’s legs. It was great just because the stands on the court we played at were absolutely packed and there were hundreds of people watching, and everyone went nuts after we won that match.”
After sliding past fellow Americans Bobby Reynolds and Michael Russell in the first round 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (9-7), the team took on the No. 12 men’s team in the tournament.
“We played two other Americans, so everybody was cheering for everybody—it was a great atmosphere. There was no rivalry, we were happy to be there,” said Redlicki. “Whatever we did was huge, the fact that we won our first round was ridiculous in itself because we were playing against two opponents who were nearly twice our age and have been on the tour for at least ten years—they have so much experience playing.”
Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Marcelo Melo of Brazil proved to be overwhelming for one of the youngest teams in the field, ending their run in two straight sets 6-1, 7-5. Regardless of their loss, Redlicki said he is proud to have made it that far in a tournament that hosts the likes of Bob and Mike Bryan, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
“These are the best players in the world that everybody knows,” Redlicki said. “You don’t even have to play tennis and you know these players—they are just that famous. I was overly excited to win a wildcard and get a chance to play in the open.”
Now, Redlicki is back on campus, already trying to catch up on the work he missed in his first week of classes. Although he just spent the last two weeks playing in a top professional tournament, most students seem to be unaware of his accomplishments.
“Not a lot of people know that I went [to the US Open],” said Redlicki. “Whenever I am with the guys and I am meeting new people through my teammates, they always just start out with ‘Oh, do you know my friend Mike, who just played in the US Open.’ I never ask them to [and] I never really want them to most of the time.”
This 6-foot-8 tennis player did not always know that the sport would take him to the world stage. Growing up, his parents realized that he was going to be a big kid, and quickly put a racket in his hand at the age of five. But, like most kids, Redlicki dabbled in other sports, playing basketball seriously while growing up and mixing electronic tracks on the side—a passion he still pursues. The summer of 2010 changed all of that. Winning 30 straight matches and garnering two top junior titles made Redlicki decide to focus on tennis, while it also gained the attention of many universities—including Duke.
After signing with the Blue Devils in 2011, Redlicki has already had the chance to play with both former and current Duke players. Besides both qualifying for and playing in the U.S. Open, Redlicki teamed up with current Blue Devil Jason Tahir for a tournament in Pittsburgh. The duo was eventually crowned the USAF 18 Futures tournament doubles champion, and has been practicing as a pair recently.
“We have been playing together all the time,” Redlicki said. “We really agree with one another and believe in each other. In doubles the biggest thing is belief in your partner, not having to worry if he is going to do his part. When I play with Jason I know he is going to do his part, he is going to play his game and I am going to play my game.”
At the same tournament in Pittsburgh, Redlicki also met up with former Duke standout and 2010 graduate Reid Carleton. Carleton played with Henrique Cunha as the top doubles team in the nation his senior year. Redlicki plans to partner with Carleton for a tournament at some point, especially if Tahir is not available.
Looking into the future, Redlicki said he hopes to win a national championship. He added that he is hungry enough and that the title is definitely within the team’s reach. As of Friday, he is now the top newcomer and freshman in the ITA and he owes it all to his undying determination on the court.
“The best part of my game is the fact that I never give up. Whenever people think I have lost because I have created such a deficit in a match—that’s when I stun people,” said Redlicki. “The beauty of tennis is that you don’t officially lose a match until it’s over—tennis isn’t timed, you have to win.... Hopefully I can keep that going here at school and improve my fundamentals so that both will combine to make a great product.”