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Carleton now among best at collegiate level

While he was no slouch in the past in singles, Reid Carleton has grown leaps and bounds as a player this year.
While he was no slouch in the past in singles, Reid Carleton has grown leaps and bounds as a player this year.

In 21 years, Reid Carleton had never journeyed outside the United States. On Monday, though, Carleton left for Rouen, France, where he will represent his country in the Master’U BNP Paribas collegiate tournament against the players from Belgium, France, China and Great Britain.

Not too shabby for his first international trip ever.

“We had to get him a passport and all that,” Duke head coach Ramsey Smith said with a laugh.

Carleton joins two other men and three women on the U.S. team in competing against squads from seven countries from around the globe. The Americans arrive in Normandy as the defending champions, having emerged victorious over the French team in last year’s Finals. Carleton will join that team, taking part from Dec. 9-12 in a best-of-seven, quasi-Davis Cup format that comprises four singles and three doubles contests.

The Duke co-captain is the first Blue Devil ever chosen for the squad—and even though the Master’U BNP Paribas is a relatively new tournament, now in its fifth year, Carleton’s selection makes an excellent case for his inclusion in the upper echelon of American collegiate tennis.

A memorable Fall

As the Blue Devils have clocked in their best combined fall campaign of Smith’s tenure, Carleton has had arguably the best individual fall season of any Duke player. Tabbed at No. 46 in preseason rankings, the senior reeled off 12 straight wins to kick off the season, including five victories over players in the top 30. Over a five-tournament span, Carleton claimed a total of two singles and three doubles titles, and produced a strong run to the semifinals of the ITA All-American Championships in October.

It was while competing at the All-American in Tulsa, Okla. that Carleton and Smith learned the senior’s success had caught the attention of top ITA and USTA coaches, among them the former Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe. Carleton’s performance in Tulsa capped a terrific stretch that ultimately netted him a selection to one of three available spots to compete for the U.S. in France.

“The bottom line is, Reid proved himself with those results. He had better [fall] results than just about anyone else in the country,” Smith said. “He did just about as well as you can do.”

Carleton’s fall records certainly speak for themselves: 13-2 in singles and 15-2 in doubles. And although his earlier efforts have by no means been poor, both he and his coach agree his singles game has surged following the summer.

“I think I’ve always been really close,” Carleton said, mulling over his recent success compared with previous years. “I mean, my record wasn’t as good [before], but I just lost a lot of very close matches. This year, I’ve just been pulling out the close ones, which is a change.”

He has a point. Through the entirety of his junior year, he lost about half of his matches that went to three completed sets. So far as a senior, two of Carleton’s matches have been three-setters, and he prevailed in both. The second contest of the two perfectly encapsulates a key reason for Carleton’s marked improvement—a rededication to his off-court fitness over the summer following a sit-down with Smith to discuss how to succeed at the next level.

That improved fitness propelled him to a win over the former No.1-ranked Steve Johnson in the opening round of the All-American Championships. After a tiebreak first set and a tightly contested second, the match began to take its toll on Johnson. He began cramping halfway into the third set. Carleton, though, showed no signs of slowing down and easily won the third set, scoring a marquee win against the USC athlete.

Out of Cunha’s shadow

Carleton ponders questions carefully before answering, but doesn’t hesitate when he says he likes the solo game more than doubles. Still, it was on the doubles court where Carleton found breakout success first, attaining his biggest accomplishments to date with Brazilian teammate Henrique Cunha.

Oddly enough, only in the last 14 months has his prowess as a doubles player progressed enough to rival his singles game. Now, the consensus might be that he is equally good in both areas. Prior to his junior season, Carleton’s talent for doubles hovered only around what he described as “mediocre.” In the fall of last year, though, he teamed up with then-freshman Cunha in what would turn out to be an illustrious, season-long campaign.

Even after taking the title in their first tournament, though, Carleton said the duo wasn’t winning consistently or convincingly. Despite this, they still managed to come back from deficits in matches and more or less plowed through both their fall and spring competition. Their final tally was 41-6, a Duke single-season record.

As a result of their triumphs, Carleton and Cunha inched up the rankings, until they finally laid claim to No. 1 in mid-April. Expectations for the two have not diminished a bit over the summer. That fact was made perfectly clear when they were awarded the preseason No. 1 ranking in September.

Carleton is quick to defer to his teammate for much of their success—in his own words, Cunha just “doesn’t lose very much.” His coach, however, doesn’t fail to credit Carleton for his contributions to the doubles team.

“I think he’s really developed into a full tennis player, and he’s been able to play [singles and doubles] equally well,” Smith said. “He probably thinks of himself more as a singles player, but when you’re ranked No. 1 in the country in doubles, it’s hard to say you’re not a great doubles player.

“He’s a complete tennis player, he just does it all.”

Having already received All-America honors on the doubles side, Carleton is focused on accomplishing the same for singles. Around 20 players typically achieve All-American status every year, Smith said. Due to Carleton’s tremendous fall season, the senior will almost certainly crack the top-15 when the first national rankings are announced in January. From there, it will be a matter of sustaining the high level of play through the spring and the NCAA Tournament.

First up on his plate, though, is the Americans’ bid to repeat as champions in the Master’U BNP Paribas. Ironically, Carleton is scheduled to take a final in his French class just a day after he returns from his jaunt to France.

After capturing newfound national recognition on the tennis front, Carleton is perfectly happy to take this real-life French exam a few days early.

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