Heading into the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Blue Devil head coach Ramsey Smith decided to mix things up.
With a few alterations to the usual lineup, neither freshman Michael Redlicki nor junior Chris Mengel stepped onto the court Friday, giving freshmen Bruno Semenzato, Josh Levine and Daniel McCall a chance to compete against Coastal Carolina (15-6) in postseason play.
Duke’s freshmen did not disappoint, contributing to a 4-0 sweep at Ambler Tennis Stadium to push the Blue Devils (23-5) through to the second round.
In his first outdoor match of the season, Semenzato delivered an energizing performance on the No. 2 doubles court alongside junior partner Fred Saba. Strategic baseline play and numerous net points allowed the pair to clinch the doubles point with an 8-4 victory over the Chanticleers’ John Karle and Leo Christofides.
“Bruno definitively set the tone in doubles,” head coach Ramsey Smith said. “He brought a lot of energy and got off to a really good start.”
Although the first set score reads 6-1, it was all but an easy contest for Semenzato playing at the sixth singles position. Semenzato managed to hang on through several long, hard-fought games at the beginning of the set.
“I feel like I handled the important points pretty well,” Semenzato said. “I just fought a lot and I found my way into those games, and I thought that was crucial for the rest of the match.”
The first four games of the second set on court six lasted longer than ten-minutes each, as the Chanticleer’s Hunter Whalen tied the score at 2-2 before Semenzato broke for a 3-2 lead. After what seemed like easy first set victories on all courts, the team struggled to pull away in the second sets.
“We were pretty comfortable in the first sets and I sensed we relaxed in the second sets,” Smith said. “It seemed like we were waiting for someone else to win rather than just finishing the job.”
Finishing the job was not a problem for senior captain Henrique Cunha, who took down opponent Yusuke Kusuda 6-0, 6-0 in less than two hours. With more than 20 Brazilian friends and family members looking on, clad in shirts and hats bearing his name, Cunha said he could not have asked for a more supportive crowd.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s my last season, and my last couple of matches here and it’s unbelievable the support that I have. It’s special.”
After Cunha locked up the second point of the match, Semenzato and sophomore Raphael Hemmeler stepped up for the Blue Devils, securing the 4-0 team victory that will send them to the next round of the tournament to face UNC-Wilmington Saturday.
Smith said that after a slow start to the second set of Duke’s singles matches, he was pleased with the way his team finished.
“The last 20 minutes of the match I felt like we really picked up the intensity a lot and finished up strongly,” Smith said.
The Seahawks (18-4) took down the 17th-ranked Gamecocks of South Carolina Friday morning with a 4-0 sweep. Duke is expecting a battle, but Smith said that rest and recovery is the most important preparation the men can do to prepare for tomorrow.
“Tomorrow we just need to make sure we’re 100 percent prepared and control the things that we can control,” Smith said. “It’s easy in this tournament environment to get distracted, so everyone just needs to focus on their court and it should be fun.”