Back from a season-opening win at Hawaii, the deepest Blue Devil team in years faces two in-state foes in its home opener.
Playing Elon at 12 p.m. Saturday and Charlotte at 12 p.m. Sunday, No. 5 Duke (1-0) will play its two final extended format matches, which will allow the team to showcase its depth.
“There’s not a single weak spot,” freshman Michael Redlicki said. “Every position is strong. We have one of the deepest, if not the deepest team in the country. That’s key when playing dual matches because a win or loss doesn’t hang on one person. It hangs on anywhere from six to 10 people.”
With a No. 14 national singles ranking, Redlicki is one of five Blue Devils ranked in the top 125 and one of five in the top 50. Duke’s level of talent was on full display in their first match, a 9-0 victory against Hawaii that featured only one match forced to a third set.
Fifth-year head coach Ramsey Smith, who has also been with the program as a player and an assistant, refers to the team as the deepest he has been a part of. “We have a very clear-cut number one,” Smith said. “[Henrique] Cunha’s going to play one every single match, singles and doubles. After that, honestly I feel like there are four or five guys we could put at two right now…. We could really play any order we want.”
With so many players who can compete at any seeding, Smith has the opportunity to have a look at everyone this weekend. The two contests will each have four doubles matches and eight singles matches.
Once the weekend is finished, Smith will have to adjust back to the typical lineup with six singles matches and three doubles matches.
“You’re playing for your spot,” Redlicki said. “You’re working really hard for the spot you play on the team, whether or not you start. It’s going to be hard to start because we have so many good players on the team that can play and could play high on the lineup on any other team. It’s a battle. We don’t hold anything against each other. We just do what’s best for the team.”
Although each player will have a chance to show his skills, Smith said he anticipates he will rotate the lineup around. Cunha has a firm hold on the number one singles position, but the 11th-ranked senior will still have something to prove on Saturday.
Elon’s likely No. 1 singles player, 21st-ranked Cameron Silverman, defeated Cunha 7-5, 3-6, 6-4 in the semifinal of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Carolina Regional this past October.
“Cunha’s certainly looking for some revenge assuming they play each other on Saturday,” Smith said.
The sophomore for the Phoenix has a different style of game, Cunha said. “He has a little bit of a funky game, a bit unorthodox,” Smith said. “He hits the ball extremely flat and takes the ball extremely early. His strokes are a little deceptive, but he moves well, and he’s a really smart player with great feel.” Nevertheless, Cunha might be able to look forward to a little home-court advantage.
Saturday afternoon’s match is one of several Duke sporting events that black tenters—who are camping out for Duke’s home basketball game against North Carolina—can attend to improve their position in line.
“I’m in my office right here, and looking out, I see a couple hundred of the best fans in the world,” Smith said. “They’re right out here so we appreciate any time they come in and watch our matches.”
As a home opener and a match that includes a top-25 singles showdown, the contest against Elon will provide an opportunity to introduce Duke fans to the talented Blue Devil squad.
“For people that haven’t been to college tennis, the format’s very exciting,” Smith said. “It’s not like Wimbledon where you have to be super polite and quiet. You can actually be loud and as long as you’re respectful, cheer loudly for your team.”
Cunha also noted the potential importance of being welcomed home by the Duke fan base.
“It helps me,” Cunha said. “It helps the other guys too. It’s just more energy. We’re just more in the match with the crowd, and it’s just a better atmosphere.”