With on-and-off rain interrupting matches in Knoxville, Tenn., the Blue Devils were forced to play "rain or shine." Unfortunately, the rain made for hard times for Duke (16-9) and contributed to the end of the Blue Devils' season.
After defeating No. 51 Radford in the first round of the tournament, Duke fell 4-1 to No. 5 Tennessee on its home court in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
"The weather was miserable," head coach Ramsey Smith said. "It made for some long days and hard matches. We ended up playing a majority of the matches indoors on only four courts."
For the 18th straight season, Duke was selected to play in the tournament and entered with its highest ranking of the season at No. 23. Friday against Radford (20-4), the Blue Devils easily defeated the Highlanders with a 4-0 victory despite the weather. Duke advanced to the second round of the tournament to play the Vols (23-6) but rain plagued the team once again.
After a considerable delay to the 3 p.m. start time Saturday, the matches were forced indoors. With only four courts in the indoor gym, the No. 5 and No. 6 single players, Alain Michel and Torsten Wietoska, were not able to begin their matches until the top of the lineups finished.
After losing the doubles point, along with Nos. 1, 2 and 4 singles, Duke was already beaten before Michel and Wietoska could finish more than a few games. Smith saw this as a disadvantage to the Blue Devils and the structure of their lineup.
"The bottom of our lineup is our strength," Smith said. "That's two of our best spots. They build momentum for us and give us confidence that can inspire the rest of the team. Not letting them start until the other matches were over puts a lot of pressure on our top four where Tennessee held their strength."
Nevertheless, Smith found positives in the defeat. He particularly praised No. 3 singles player Dylan Arnould, who came out with a victory for the Blue Devils against one of the top teams in the nation.
Arnould, who won in straight sets against Tennessee's Matteo Fago, improved to 23-13 in singles.
Similarly, Smith was impressed with sophomore Reid Carleton, who battled John-Patrick Smith, the fifth-ranked player in the country, at the top slot. Smith ultimately defeated Carleton 6-3, 7-5.
"We were in a dogfight with the No. 5 team in the country," Smith said. "I wish the season could have lasted a little longer as we are playing our best tennis yet, but I'm proud of our guys and we've come a long way."
Although the season may be over for the Blue Devils as a team, Carleton and Kiril Dimitrov, a senior, were selected to play in the NCAA Singles Championships, which begin Wednesday. Both players will compete in the national singles tournament for the first time in their careers.
- by Caroline Fairchild
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