Snow may have shut down Duke's campus Wednesday, but for the men’s tennis team, practice was still on.
“We pushed back a couple of morning things, but the guys are all set,” head coach Ramsey Smith said. “It’s quiet on campus, but we did some good work today and... we’ll be ready.”
The No. 17 Blue Devils will need the extra preparation before they take on No. 22 Illinois Friday at 7 p.m. Their matchup against the Fighting Illini will be the last match played at home before Duke sets off on a six-match road trip, not including the four-day long ITA National Team Indoor Championships beginning Feb. 14. The Blue Devils will not play another home match until March 21.
“It’s part of the deal to play half home, half away,” Smith said. “We’ve played only home so far this year and we play home this weekend, but then we go on a couple tough road trips so we need to make the most of [being home].”
Duke will face Illinois after winning both of its matches during ITA Kickoff Weekend—a 4-1 victory against Oregon and a 4-2 win against North Carolina. Although they dropped their first doubles match and second singles match, the Blue Devils were able to win four singles matches to clinch the victory against the Tar Heels.
“We learned a lot we made some big improvements this weekend… and we certainly gained some momentum and confidence,” Smith said. “We realized how important it is that we come out 100 percent ready to go for every single match, and we did that.”
Illinois also won both of its dual matches to open up its spring slate. The Fighting Illini first swept No. 25 Clemson and then rallied to defeat Michigan 4-2 during its ITA Kick-Off Weekend tournament. With its two wins, Illinois secured itself a spot at the ITA National Team Indoors, where they could potentially face Duke again this season.
The biggest matchup this weekend will be between both teams’ top-ranked players—No. 29 Michael Redlicki will square off with fourth-ranked Jared Hiltzik. Redlicki, a sophomore, has only completed one match this spring for the Blue Devils, defeating Oregon’s Kevin Farin and Robin Cambier in the first doubles position with junior Jason Tahir. Redlicki was unable to complete each of his other three matches in the first doubles and singles positions due to suspended play.
Hiltzik has handily won both of his two spring matches in straight sets. In the number three doubles position partnered with sophomore Alex Jesse, Hiltzik is 1-1. After sweeping Clemson’s doubles pair 6-0, Hiltzik and Jesse fell 6-5 to Michigan’s Shaun Bernstein and Kevin Braun.
“The most important thing is that each of our players focuses on what he wants to accomplish and focuses on executing their specific game plan,” Smith said. “Hiltzik a great player, but he’s certainly beatable, and I think Michael Redlicki will be up to the challenge.”
The Blue Devils have faced the Fighting Illini in each of the past five seasons, posting a 1-4 record in that span. Last season, with the match tied at 3-3, Hiltzik overtook then-junior Fred Saba in the decisive singles set to secure victory for Illinois.
“Illinois is a really good team, and we’ve had a lot of battles with them in the past,” Smith said. “It’s always a good match with them—we just need to be ready for their best.”
This season, however, Smith believes a different factor could be decisive in helping to carry Duke to victory—the weather. After a freezing week, the forecast for Durham Friday is a high of 53 degrees.
“The snow’s kind of nice, but wouldn’t want to deal with it all the time,” Smith said. “It’ll be nice to get back to normal weather.”