How do you improve a tennis team that lost more than half the doubles points it played in 2009? With a solid right-handed player returning in Reid Carleton, the Blue Devils couldn’t go wrong by bringing in prized lefty recruit Henrique Cunha from Brazil. That approach has worked dazzlingly for Duke so far, as Carleton and Cunha emerged as champions from the ITA Carolina Regionals.
Duke’s No. 1 doubles team beat the top duo from Wake Forest 8-4 in the tournament final Monday, earning itself one of just 16 doubles berths in the ITA Indoor National tournament in November. En route to the regional title, Carleton and Cunha won five matches, all by a score of 8-5 or better, beating the No. 1 and No. 2 teams from archrival North Carolina and the top pair from Wake Forest.
Carleton and Cunha brought their best return game against strong servers Iain Atkinson and Steve Forman in the regional final, starting the match strong and getting up a critical break early. Atkinson had defeated Cunha in singles play Sunday, and Forman returned to Wake Forest after being part of the No. 1 doubles team in college tennis last season. The Demon Deacon duo put up a fight during the middle of the match before Duke finished off the Wake Forest pair.
“There were a couple times where... it looked like the other team was going to make a run, and both Reid and Cunha really stepped up in the big moments of the match,” head coach Ramsey Smith said.
Duke has not sent a player to National Indoors since 2004, Smith said.
Carleton and Cunha are now 14-2 as a doubles pair, with their only two losses coming against the first- and sixth-ranked teams in the country. This is especially impressive given that the two had never played together prior to their first match this season, and Carleton said he had never played with a left-handed partner before.
“They are getting more and more comfortable with each other and with their games.... They both return exceptionally well, and they’re extremely fast, so... they’re putting pressure on another team’s serve almost every game,” Smith said. “[Cunha has] jumped in right away at the No. 1 spot, and he’s been phenomenal this year.”
Smith is particularly encouraged by the win since it reflects the coaches’ increased focus on doubles play.
“Starting off our season, we’re going to have a legitimate No. 1 team,” Smith said.
“We feel like we’re up there, like we’re a top five team in the country,” Carleton said. “We’re just trying to prove ourselves.”
With their win at regionals, Cunha and Carleton have earned themselves a chance to do just that.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.