Duke men's tennis opens 2016 slate against Elon and Kentucky

Several Blue Devil freshmen will make their dual match debuts this weekend

<p>Several freshmen are likely to make their dual match debuts Friday when the Blue Devils take on Elon Friday evening.</p>

Several freshmen are likely to make their dual match debuts Friday when the Blue Devils take on Elon Friday evening.

The Blue Devils are finally back competing with the comforts of home, but there will not be many familiar faces in uniform this weekend.

No. 13 Duke kicks off its dual match schedule this weekend at Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center, hosting Elon at 6 p.m. Friday and Kentucky at 1 p.m. Sunday in its first action of 2016. The Blue Devils will look to continue a recent hot stretch on its home court, as they have won 12 consecutive indoor matches at home and posted a 28-3 record in their last 31 contests in Durham.

But many of the players responsible for that impressive run will no longer be competing for Duke. The Blue Devils lost three players with 100 career singles wins—Raphael Hemmeler, Chris Mengel and Jason Tahir—as well as Bruno Semenzato, leaving head coach Ramsey Smith to replace the No. 2 through 5 starters in his lineup.

Helping to replace that quartet of experienced starters is a freshmen foursome that got their feet wet with some individual tournaments during the fall season, but will be facing the first dual matches of their careers this weekend.

“It’s a really young team and we have a lot of freshmen playing [Friday]—their first-ever match, and so we’re just trying to focus on the things we can control,” Smith said. “It’s an experience thing in terms of just playing dual matches. Today, we actually did a run-through. We did the exact warm-up we’re going to do for [Friday] and played a set. It was very similar to the dual match feel.”

Ryan Dickerson, Jason Lapidus, Adrian Chamdani and Vincent Lin all saw extensive action during the fall campaign, participating in both singles and doubles. Dickerson and Lapidus both posted sub-.500 records in singles, and Chamdani came out even with a 7-7 ledger. Lin earned the best singles record of the group, winning eight matches against six losses and even picking up a win against a ranked opponent.

Even though the results varied among the freshmen, Smith said the pecking order behind top returner and newly-minted sophomore captain Nico Alvarez is still being worked out, and this weekend will be the first chance for the rookies to try and separate themselves.

“To be honest, we have a lot of guys that are very, very similar. A lot of times, the pecking order is pretty clear, and there’s very little separating two through six,” Smith said. “To be honest, I feel like I could put those guys in almost any order and it would be considered a fair lineup. It’s very, very close, and we’re certainly not set in stone—things are fluid this year.”

The Blue Devils will look to its new faces to grow up quickly on the court, but the Phoenix feature an even more inexperienced lineup. Elon has six freshmen on its roster, one more than Duke’s five—the aforementioned quartet, plus Catalin Mateas, who struggled through injuries and did not see much action in the fall.

Only two Blue Devils—seniors Josh Levine and Daniel McCall—were on the court the last time Duke and Elon met in 2014, leading Smith to quip that the players on the court Friday might be a mystery to everyone.

“I think Elon has more freshmen than we have, I think they have six freshmen. I was just talking to Coach and he said he might not recognize all but one or two of the guys that are playing tomorrow,” Smith said. “It’s obviously their first match of the year, it’s our first match of the year—it’s going to be the first dual match ever for over half the people in the facility, probably.”

Ryan Hoerger contributed reporting.


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