Both the Blue Devil men and women came out fighting and ready for competitive match play this weekend at the Fab Four Invitational in Cary, N.C.
With its first official practice yet to come, the men’s team swept all six singles and doubles titles for a solid start to its preseason. Four new doubles teams made their debuts in the draw, with three of the four winning in their respective brackets. The women, however, did not dominate the tournament.
“It is a perfect start to the year. I thought our guys did a great job competing and battling, and it was just a great overall showing,” men’s head coach Ramsey Smith said.
The No. 15 pairing of juniors Fred Saba and Chris Mengel cruised to victory against Louisville and Virginia Tech to reach the final against Radford’s Thomas Dehaen and Nicholas Sayer. The Duke duo went on to win 8-3. Senior Henrique Cunha and sophomore Raphael Hemmeler—the No. 16 doubles team in the nation—bettered their score in each round before downing Elon’s Stefan Fortmann and Cameron Silverman 8-2. Freshman Michael Redlicki and sophomore Jason Tahir secured the third doubles crown. After sneaking by in the first round against Elon 9-8 (7-3) they went on to beat N.C. State 8-4. Freshmen Daniel McCall and Josh Levine won third place against North Carolina in the consolation round of the same bracket.
“Overall I was really happy with all three freshmen,” Smith said. “All of them have a lot of potential—they have the foundation to be great players. They are off to a good start and I am looking forward to watching them play more.”
Due to rain, the singles play was moved indoors on Sunday. The Blue Devils filled all six possible spots open in the final rounds, so they did not play out those matches. Had the matches been played, Tahir and Cunha would have fought it out, along with Mengel and Hemmeler and Redlicki and Saba. Besides the four ranked Duke players, eight players represented other schools ranked in the top 122 in the nation. The highest ranked opponent was No. 12 Anthony Rossi from Kentucky, who withdrew from his match against Redlicki. Levine fell in the semifinals to teammate Tahir 6-1, 6-2 and lost in the third place match against Virginia Commonwealth’s Max Wennakoski 7-6 (9-7), 6-7 (4-7), 10-3. After losing in the second round to Rossi 6-3, 6-2, McCall lost to Becker O’Shaugnessy of Alabama 6-3, 6-2.
The Blue Devil women gained a few victories, but did not take control in the tournament. Senior Mary Clayton lost in the semifinals of her bracket to Texas A&M’s Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar 6-2, 6-2. Both sophomore Annie Mulholland and junior Marianne Jodoin lost in the quarterfinals of their respective brackets.
Mulholland won in her seventh place match against Miami’s Melissa Bolivar 6-2, 6-2. Jodoin fell to Noel Scott of Texas 6-2, 6-4 but later regrouped to claim seventh place in her bracket. Sophomore Ester Goldfeld fell in the first round of her bracket before winning the consolation round 6-4, 6-0 to Purdue’s Lynda Xepolas. The only Blue Devil in the final was junior Hannah Mar, who beat Scott 6-1, 6-1, giving the team its only tournament victory.
“The first tournament of the year can be difficult because you are just getting back into playing matches,” Mar said. “Whenever you can come out and play a lot of matches it will always be really helpful. I am glad I got to do that and play some good matches with some good opponents. Every win is a boost of confidence, so I feel great about winning any match.”
Once again, Duke struggled in overall doubles play for the tournament, but it was the first time the Blue Devils tried this combination of teams in a competitive situation. Alabama’s Jansen and Mary Anne Macfarlane dismantled the No. 27 duo Clayton and Jodoin 8-3 in the quarterfinals. Duke finished in third place in that bracket after Texas A&M did not compete, giving the pair a walkover.
Goldfeld and Mulholland started with good momentum posting an 8-5 victory in the first round over Purdue followed by an 8-2 win over Ole Miss. William and Mary’s Jeltje Loomans and Maria Belaya, however, proved to be too strong, defeating the Blue Devils 8-2 for the title.
“We played okay, we can definitely play better... we definitely played a pretty average tournament for our level,” head coach Jaime Ashworth said. “But one of the reasons we play tournaments like this is to know what we need to work on and get a lot of matches. I’m not worried, we have a lot of talent and its just figuring out what to do with it.”
This tournament provides momentum to both teams as they move further into their preseasons.
“It gives us a lot of confidence,” Cunha said. “Everyone played well, everyone stepped up, I think all the guys that are playing the next tournament are confident and I think we set the tone for the season.”