The temperature is rising in Durham and for Duke that means harder and longer practices to gear up for tougher and hotter matches.
After a weekend of conference matches, top-ranked Duke continues to prepare for the ACC tournament at the end of the month with a three-match conference homestead. Duke will take on N.C. State Friday at 3 p.m. before hosting ACC frontrunner No. 13 Miami Sunday at noon at Ambler Tennis Stadium.
Friday's matchup pits teams trending in opposite directions—the Wolfpack is currently on a five-match losing streak and the Blue Devils haven’t lost in 10 contests.
“N.C. State is always a feisty team and they play with a lot of emotion,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “I think that we have to worry about ourselves and take care of what we need to do and just keep trying to get smarter and adapt to the conditions that we have not played in.”
Duke and N.C. State have played in every season since 1976, with the Blue Devils (18-1, 8-1 in the ACC) leading the series 53-1. This year the Wolfpack (7-8, 1-7) has no top-125-ranked players in singles or doubles, compared to Duke’s four ranked doubles teams and singles players.
Although the Wolfpack has had a rough season, Duke will not be looking ahead to Sunday's showdown against Miami. The match will pit the Hurricanes, who currently sit atop the ACC standings, against the Blue Devils, who currently sit atop the national polls. Miami (14-2, 8-0) boasts two top-100-ranked singles players and doubles teams in No. 49 Kelsey Laurente and No. 61 Stephanie Wagner. Just like Duke, the Hurricanes are currently on a 10-match win streak, meaning something will have to give Sunday.
Temperatures this weekend are expected to hover around 80 degrees, which is an adjustment for Duke, as it is used to playing in the temperature-controlled Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center. To prepare, the Blue Devils have switched things up a bit in practice.
“We are trying to do a little bit more conditioning and a little bit more movement for longer while it is warm out here,” Ashworth said. “Usually the points are a little bit longer because the ball moves a little bit slower [outdoors], so you are going to run down more balls.”
Duke's pristine undefeated home record this year has allowed Ashworth and his team to spend more time focusing on preparing for pressured match play than fixing mistakes from other matches.
“We are just trying to do basic things right and trying to not give away free points, trying to put pressure on people in practice, [like] running stuff if you mishit," Ashworth said. "Just little things, just trying to simulate pressure situations as best we can."