The Blue Devils may have won their sixth consecutive match Sunday, but the real story of the day revolved around senior Fred Saba.
Saba earned his 100th career singles victory, becoming the 12th player in Duke history to reach the 100-win plateau, as the No. 13 Blue Devils defeated Georgia Tech 7-0 at the Ambler Tennis Stadium.
“It means a lot. When I first got here, just looking at the wall and the list of all the players with 100 wins, that was one of my performance goals,” Saba said. “I’m just fortunate enough to have been healthy for the majority of my four years here and I’ve been surrounded by great staff and great teammates to help me get better each step of the way.”
While some players might be nervous playing in such a momentous match, No. 50 Saba was masterful throughout his 6-2, 6-0 triumph against Eduardo Segura.
Saba admitted to being aware that he was playing for his 100th win, and used that pressure to his advantage.
“[There was] extra motivation to just stay focused on every point which is what I’ve learned growing up in tennis,” Saba said. “You just have to throw all the result-oriented goals out of the picture and and just make sure you’re playing each point as well as you can.”
The rest of the match was unusual to say the least. Ravaged by injuries, the Yellow Jackets (7-13, 1-9 in the ACC) only had five players available, meaning that only two doubles matches and five singles matches were played, and Duke started the match with a 1-0 lead.
“It’s just one of those really unlucky years [for them] with injuries and a bunch of things going on,” Duke head coach Ramsey Smith said. “It definitely had a different feel to it, but I think it was really important to keep the guys focused and keep the energy up.”
The Blue Devils (16-5, 8-1) were not thrown off by the strange format and got off to a fast start, notching two upset wins to take the doubles point. Duke’s 61st-ranked team of Saba and Raphael Hemmeler took down the Yellow Jackets’ 43rd-ranked duo of Segura and Carlos Benito 8-3. Jason Tahir and Josh Levine followed with an 8-6 win against No. 79 Nathan Rakitt and Cole Fiegel.
The win by Tahir and Levine improved their record to 5-0 since they began playing doubles together in late March. Their solid play at the second doubles position has been a huge pickup for the Blue Devils.
“Jason and Josh have been great for us,” Smith said. “They play an unconventional doubles style catering to their strengths, but they both are competing really well and fighting through some tough games.”
Duke kept its momentum going from the doubles point, putting in some strong performances during singles play.
Hemmeler followed Saba’s outstanding performance with a dominant display of his own, defeating Benito 6-2, 6-2 to clinch the match. The win was Hemmeler’s sixth consecutive in singles, as he continues to shine since moving up the ladder from the No. 4 spot to the third position.
“I think I’ve been playing really well,” Hemmeler said. “I think this match was key for me. It gave me a lot of confidence and showed that I am on the same level as those guys as well. I’m confident I can beat anyone at any spot.”
No. 42 Tahir was the next Blue Devil off the court, defeating the aptly-named Rackitt 6-3, 7-6. The team completed the sweep as No. 88 Bruno Semenzato and Levine came back after losing their opening sets to win their respective matches.
“Doubles really set the tone for today,” Smith said. “Then I thought Rapha and Fred especially really got it going quickly in singles.”
Duke is now riding a six-match winning streak heading into its final weekend of the season. The Blue Devils will travel to No. 23 Wake Forest Friday before returning home Sunday for a crucial match against No. 8 North Carolina.