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Men's tennis continues to rise to top

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Men's tennis continues to rise to top**

Year in and year out, there are only a few NCAA men's tennis teams that have realistic chances at winning the national title.

A few of these traditional powers are Stanford, Georgia, USC, UCLA and Texas. These teams can count on being there late in the NCAA tournament, and they usually have a shot to win it all.

It is time to add the Duke men's tennis team to that list.

Under fourth-year head coach Jay Lapidus, the Blue Devils have executed a meteoric rise to the top of the rankings. When Lapidus arrived, Duke was a relative non-factor in the men's tennis world, unranked in the national polls. But the Blue Devils have steadily improved each year under Lapidus, and Duke is ranked fourth in the NCAA as the spring season gets under way.

"Three years ago, when Jay first came, it was an unranked team," junior captain Chris Pressley said. "I think the total difference is Jay himself as a coach. People want to work. They want to put in the extra sacrifice. People know they want to work for Jay. He's a great coach.

"People want to be involved in a winning program, and that's what Jay has set up."

Last season, Lapidus' squad reached a level of success previously unknown to Duke men's tennis. The Blue Devils reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament for the first time, losing to eventual runner-up Georgia after having the Bulldogs on the brink of defeat. The 1992-93 squad went through the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and tournament undefeated and ran off a 17-match winning streak during the year.

Gone from that team are three of last year's top players -- David Hall, Willy Quest and Jason Rayman. Although this year's team does not have a single senior on the roster, it could very well exceed the accomplishments of the 1992-93 group.

"I think with the addition of the freshman class, which is very strong, along with the development of the upperclassmen, I don't feel like it's going to be a rebuilding year," Lapidus said. "We're obviously one of the best young teams in the country. It's clearly the hardest-working team we've had since I've been here. They're all my guys now. They really want to win a national championship."

Leading the way for Duke is Pressley, the third-ranked player in the nation. Pressley finished last year at No. 17 and had an 18-5 record at second singles.

"Chris has established himself as one of the top couple guys in college," Lapidus said. "He's going to be a really strong No. 1 man for us. Chris just finds a way to win. He always has, and I know he will again this year."

As a captain on a young team -- there are three juniors, four sophomores and three freshmen on the roster -- Pressley will be looked to for leadership.

"My role on this team as a captain is to set a good example on the court with work ethic and dedication toward practice and level of play," Pressley said. "That's what we're all about -- a cohesive team that just sticks together and will work hard."

Joining Pressley at the top of the singles lineup will be two sophomore roommates, Rob Chess and Peter Ayers. As freshmen, the two southpaws saw significant action in the singles lineup, and they also teamed up to form Duke's No. 2 doubles team. Chess was All-ACC in singles, and the duo was also All-ACC in doubles.

"They're sophomores, but when they were freshmen, they didn't act like freshmen," Lapidus said. "They're kind of like a year or two ahead of their time in terms of maturity and leadership."

Chess may be the most improved player on the team. He saw time last year at the No. 6 singles position, but he is now ranked No. 33 in the nation. Ayers is ranked No. 45 in the NCAA.

"When I got here, tennis was one of the more important things for me, and I've been working on my game really hard," Chess said. "I know that a lot of guys have been doing that, and I think that's why the team has improved so much."

Junior Philippe Moggio and sophomore Jordan Murray should also see regular action in the lineup. Both have played doubles in the past, but now their singles games have improved immeasurably.

"[Moggio] has definitely showed he's made a lot of progress," Lapidus said. "He played [No.] 6 for us his freshman year, and he's twice the player he was then. He's definitely going to get some good time in there.

"[Murray] is a really feisty guy. He's the sort of person you need on a team -- he's a real catalyst for our team."

The other returning players are junior Rob Principe and sophomore Nick Walrod, but they will be hard-pressed to earn quality time in the lineup.

Two freshman will certainly see quality time this year, as Lapidus has put together one of the top freshman classes in the country for the third year in a row.

The most highly-regarded newcomer is Adam Gusky of North Miami Beach, Fla. Gusky was the top junior player in Florida and the sixth-ranked 18-and-under player in the country. He was also the national 18-and-under doubles champion.

Gusky recently suffered a sprained ankle but should be ready to go by mid-February.

"Adam is one of the best couple freshmen in the country," Lapidus said. "He'll obviously be solidly in there in the singles lineup."

Another freshman, Sven Koehler, has plenty of international tennis experience. Koehler comes to Duke from Hong Kong, where he was a student at the Swiss-German International school. Koehler was ranked fifth in the world junior rankings, and he has won doubles matches at the French Open and Wimbledon junior tournaments.

"I would love to get Sven in the lineup, because he's a great talent," Lapidus said. "As a freshman, he can make a lot of progress."

The third freshman is Navroz Udwadia, a native of Bombay, India. Udwadia was one of the top juniors in India and was runner-up in the 1992 Junior Clay Court Championships of India.

Barring injuries, this Duke team is a heavy favorite to repeat as ACC champions. But the Blue Devils have their sights set higher. Duke is ranked fourth in the country, yet it still believes it does not get the same respect as some of the other tennis powers. One goal will be for the Blue Devils to get the respect -- both nationally and at Duke -- that they feel they deserve.

"Yeah, we're gaining respect, and people know we're good, but I don't think they realize how good we really are," Ayers said. "If you asked coaches in the SEC or the Pac-10 who had a shot to win the national title, I don't know if our name would come up. But I think we've got something in store for them."

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