With a 17-3 doubles record in the fall season, junior Reid Carleton and freshman Henrique Cuhna lead No. 19 Duke as the Blue Devils look forward to starting regular season play.
And yet, as the team prepares for its own Duke Invitational exhibition tournament this weekend, it does so without the help of its two strongest players.
Due to a win in the ITA Carolina Regional Championship and a run to the national doubles championship match, Carleton and Cuhna played more fall season matches than any of their teammates. As the NCAA limits players to 25 total contests prior to the official start of the spring season, Carleton and Cuhna will not compete in their home tournament against East Tennessee State, Elon and North Carolina this weekend.
The players go into the season ranked No. 8 nationally in doubles. After the Blue Devils struggled significantly last season in winning the all-important doubles point, head coach Ramsey Smith is glad to see that this newly formed team was able to learn to work together so quickly. Although Cuhna joined the Blue Devils after growing up and playing in Jau, Brazil, the language barrier isn’t affecting the partners while they’re out on the court.
“Tennis is a universal language and they get along great playing doubles,” Smith said. “They had an unbelievable fall and they have being doing great as a team. One of the problems last season was that we didn’t have a legitimate No. 1 doubles team so that put a lot of pressure on No. 2 and No. 3, but with Cuhna and Carleton really establishing themselves as No. 1 and everyone playing well and playing a lot over break, I’m excited to see everyone play.”
Smith decided to use the absence of his dynamic duo this weekend as an opportunity to do some new things with his lineup.
“Unfortunately, they are sitting out,” Smith said. “I think it’s actually a good thing because it will give some of our other guys a chance to play a little higher and get some opportunities against top players.”
Sophomore Luke Marchese is looking forward to this weekend’s matches and the challenge of playing in a higher spot than usual. Marchese posted a Duke freshman record with nine ACC wins last season, tying for the most ever during league play by a Duke player, and he knows that he is capable of playing even better tennis.
“I’m going to be playing a lot of doubles this year even though I didn’t play a lot last year,” Marchese said. “I’m hoping to play pretty high up in the singles lineup because I feel like I proved myself last year.”
Although the upcoming matches won’t count as dual matches or toward the team record, Marchese said the Blue Devils take the matches just as seriously.
“We’re ready to get into it early,” Marchese said. “It’s the first weekend back and it’s good to get a little jump on it. Hopefully we can get some momentum going for the season because it picks up quick…. We treat it like it’s war.”
The Duke Invitational will begin Saturday at noon against Elon, and will continue into Sunday when the Blue Devils face East Tennessee State at 10 a.m. In Duke’s final match of the tournament, the Blue Devils host North Carolina Monday at 2 p.m. All matches will be held in the Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center.
The Blue Devils play their first regular season match Jan. 23, when they face Elon again, this time in a match that counts in the standings.
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