With only a handful of dual matches remaining, every conference contest counts.
No. 13 Duke will welcome No. 20 Clemson and Georgia Tech to Ambler Tennis Stadium this weekend for two of its final three home matches of the regular season. Returning to Durham and hoping to extend its four-game winning streak, the Blue Devils will square off against the Tigers Friday at noon before rounding out the weekend Sunday against the Yellow Jackets at 1 p.m.
“These are all important matches,” head coach Ramsey Smith said. “They all count the same, whether you beat Virginia or Boston College, it all counts for your [position in the] ACC standings.”
Clemson (18-5, 5-3 in the ACC) comes to Durham after a narrow loss to Virginia and a victory against Virginia Tech last weekend. The squad's weekend culminated in senior Dominique Maden earning ACC Player of the Week honors after going undefeated in both singles and doubles competition. Throughout the season, the Tigers' performance in doubles play has been a difference-maker—the Tigers have secured the doubles point in all but one ACC match this year.
“Clemson’s really good. They’ve had a really good year,” Smith said. “We’re focusing a lot on doubles this week, trying to fine-tune the doubles, but it’s going to be a battle.”
Maden poses the greatest threat to the Blue Devils (14-5, 6-1) when he teams up with 2013 All-ACC athlete Hunter Harrington. Although the duo did not play together last season, they are ranked 31st nationally and have lost only once—by two points in a set tiebreaker against Wake Forest. The formidable pair will face Duke’s Raphael Hemmeler and Fred Saba, who moved to the top doubles spot in early March and have gone 5-2 since.
“[Hemmeler and Saba] are playing well. They won 8-0 against Florida State, which is pretty unbelievable,” Smith said. “They’re starting to play really well together, and it should be a good match.”
After the doubles contests, Duke’s recently-shifted singles lineup will take to the courts against a seasoned Tiger squad. With sophomore Michael Redlicki suspended and injured redshirt junior Cale Hammond out of competition, the Blue Devils have been forced to readjust their lineup. The most recent combination—featuring junior Jason Tahir at the top position—has resulted in four straight Duke wins on the road and will likely serve as this weekend’s lineup as well.
“[Clemson] has a couple new guys, [and] their returning players are playing a lot better than they did last year,” Smith said. “They just lost to Virginia 4-3 in a really close match… so we obviously have to play our best.”
Out of the 12 singles players who competed in last season’s matchup between the two teams, only half will play Friday, and all six will most likely face new opponents. After downing Harrington in last year’s contest, Saba will face No. 99 Maden, while No. 42 Tahir will make the jump from his 2013 bout with Clemson’s Austin Ansari at the sixth spot to face Harrington as the top seed.
After Clemson, the Blue Devils will play host to Georgia Tech (7-11, 1-7), which has won just one of its last 11 matches. Despite beginning the season with success against nonconference foes, the Yellow Jackets’ lone conference win came against Boston College, the only team positioned lower than Georgia Tech in the ACC standings.
Resting third, just one spot higher than Clemson, in the current ACC standings, Duke can finish second behind Virginia with wins in its last four contests. The Blue Devils face No. 23 Wake Forest and No. 8 North Carolina next weekend.
“We’ve done a really good job all ACC season. We lost that one match to Virginia, [but] it was pretty close—closer than the score,” Smith said. “Since then we’ve had some really good wins…. We just need to stay focused and keep working hard. Focus on the doubles is going to be key for the rest of the ACC season.”