An enthusiastic crowd packed the seats of Ambler Tennis Stadium Sunday to celebrate Henrique Cunha, the team’s only graduating senior, as the Blue Devils took on N.C. State.
He did not disappoint. By cruising to a 6-1, 6-0 victory against the Wolfpacks’ Robbie Mudge in what head coach Ramsey Smith called “one of the best singles matches of his career,” Cunha wrapped up his final season of collegiate tennis with a perfect 16-0 record in dual matches and led No. 10 Duke (21-4, 9-1 in the ACC) to a 7-0 victory.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better season,” Cunha said. “It’s just unbelievable.” A native of Jau, Brazil, Cunha entered Sunday’s contest with 144 singles victories in his career and will leave Duke as the most decorated player in program’s 108-year history.
“Each year the team has gotten better, and that’s not a coincidence,” Smith said. “It’s because the guys are following his lead and he’s set such a high standard.”
Cunha’s silent yet commanding presence has been a guiding force for the Blue Devils, setting an example for his teammates and leading the squad to an undefeated season at home.
“He’s just the whole package,” Smith said. “He wins, he wins the right way, he’s a good sport and a great representative of the University. He’s a great teammate, a great leader and stays extremely humble.”
All three doubles courts faced aggressive net players against N.C. State (13-9, 6-4), but a combination of high lobs and strategic passing shots allowed the Blue Devils to neutralize the attacks of larger opponents, keeping the points evenly matched.
Cunha, alongside doubles partner Raphael Hemmeler, took on the No. 12 doubles team in Sean Weber and Dave Thompson of N.C. State. At first, Duke struggled to put the ball past a 6-foot-4 Weber at the net, going down a break early. But as the Cunha and Hemmeler began to settle into their strokes, they attacked the net and managed to keep the ball deep and their opponents subdued at the baseline, winning three straight games and taking an 8-5 victory.
“I was a little bit nervous today because of senior day,” Hemmeler said. “But it’s just so much fun with him on the court because we are also close friends off the court.”
On court three, juniors Fred Saba and Chris Mengel took on Beck Bond and Austin Powell, staying on serve until a powerful overhead smash by Saba secured the first break of the match, giving the Blue Devils a 6-4 lead. The pair then went on to clinch the doubles point with an 8-5 win.
Duke will be the No. 2 seed in next week’s ACC Tournament. The Blue Devils will face either No. 7 seed Florida State or 10th-seeded Georgia Tech Friday in Cary, N.C.