When Duke last took the court, it squandered a 3-0 lead against Wake Forest in the semifinal of the ACC Tournament, falling to a team it had trounced 7-0 during the regular season.
“We learned that you can’t win matches on paper—you have to go out and play,” head coach Ramsey Smith said. “We can’t take anything for granted and have to give it our best shot every time we step on the court. We’ve been really focusing on our attitude and representing this school as well as we can.”
No. 9 seed Duke (22-5) will take on unranked Coastal Carolina (15-5) Friday at Ambler Tennis Stadium at 1 p.m. in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Boasting a perfect, 8-0 conference record, the Chanticleers defeated Presbyterian to win the Big South Tournament and secure an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
This is Coastal Carolina’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history.
“It’s a little tough because we’ve only seen a couple of their players play,” Smith said. “They finished the season very strong in their conference for the first time in a while. We’ll just be ready for their best.”
Selected as one of the 16 host sites for the NCAA Tournament, the Blue Devils will not have to leave home to play their matches in the first and second round. Duke is undefeated at home in dual matches this season.
The team’s lone senior, Henrique Cunha, will put his perfect 17-0 singles record in dual matches on the line when the ninth-ranked singles player in the nation takes the court at the No. 1 position for the Blue Devils.
Playing at home will not only allow Cunha to attend his own graduation Sunday, but give 15 members of his family who traveled all the way from Cunha’s home in Jau, Brazil a chance to watch him play at Ambler Tennis Stadium for the final time in his career.
“It’s awesome for him to play his last two matches here and have his whole family watching,” sophomore Raphael Hemmeler said. “It’s a nice way for him to end his college career.”
Duke’s singles lineup boasts four more nationally ranked singles players in No. 43 Fred Saba, No. 46 Michael Redlicki, No. 74 Hemmeler and No. 121 Chris Mengel.
Cunha and Hemmeler are also ranked No. 2 in the country as a doubles pair. Duke’s duo of lefties has posted a 21-2 record in dual matches this season and has won 13 consecutive contests.
Smith stressed the importance of getting off to a fast start in doubles play. The Blue Devils have won the doubles point in eight of their last nine matches.
“In the tournament format, as soon as you get to four points, you’re done,” Smith said. “Being able to get that first point on the board, it really gives you a lot of confidence moving into the singles. Our doubles has been really good all year, and it’s certainly been one of our focuses in the past week.”
None of Coastal Carolina’s singles players or doubles teams are nationally ranked. The Chanticleers’ top singles player, Leo Christofides, posted just a 2-8 record at the No. 1 singles position on the season. The team has relied on the play of its third singles player, sophomore Garik Yedigarian, who has posted a 15-4 singles record on the season.
The Chanticleers have seen success at the bottom of their doubles ladder, with the team’s second and third doubles pairings of Christofides and John Karle and Yusuke Kusuda and Ted Nilsson posting records of 15-4 and 14-6, respectively.
Coastal Carolina has not faced a team ranked higher than 39th this season. It’s lone match against an opponent from a major conference came against Virginia Tech, a team that finished in the middle of the pack in the ACC. The Hokies handed the Chanticleers a 7-0 drubbing Feb. 2, and Coastal Carolina took a total of one set in the match.
Although Coastal Carolina could be outmatched when it faces the Blue Devils, the Chanticleers could have momentum on its side. Coastal Carolina has won its last 10 matches and has not lost since March 15 to Richmond.
“They’re feeling confident. They have absolutely nothing to lose. They’re certainly excited to be in the tournament,” Smith said. “They’re on a roll, and we have respect for them, and we’re ready to go.”