April has been a month to forget for Duke. The Blue Devils entered the final month of the regular season 10-10, but were unable rise above .500.
Riding a four-match losing streak, Duke will meet seventh-seeded Notre Dame in the ACC tournament Thursday at 1 p.m. at the Cary Tennis Park in Cary, N.C. The 10th-seeded Blue Devils have suffered lopsided defeats at the hands of then-No. 3 Virginia, then-No. 6 Wake Forest and then-No. 5 North Carolina as well as a narrow 4-3 loss to Clemson, and will need a deep run in the conference championship to increase their chances of receiving an NCAA tournament bid.
“We knew we were going to have a tough draw,” Duke head coach Ramsey Smith said. “Especially with how things played out in the ACC season, we knew that our seeding would be low, and there are a lot of really good teams ahead of us. Notre Dame is definitely one of those teams and they are really peaking at the right time.”
Duke’s losses to the Tigers and the Tar Heels last weekend came with several players out due to injury. Freshmen Vincent Lin, Adrian Chamdani and Catalin Mateas all ended the season on the sideline, and have not been in the lineup together since March 27.
Mateas left Duke’s last match against the Tar Heels after aggravating a lingering injury in a 6-2 doubles loss to the duo of Anudeep Kodali and Ronnie Schneider. Smith said that he is still unsure whether the Braintree, Mass., native will be able to play in the ACC tournament.
“I’m hopeful [that Mateas will play],” Smith said. “It’s kind of a day-to-day thing with him and with a couple other guys, so we will just have to see how they are the day before or the day of.”
When Duke (11-14, 4-8 in the ACC) played Notre Dame March 18 in South Bend, Ind., the Fighting Irish (14-12, 6-6) won the doubles point and four singles matches for a 5-2 victory. Duke’s lone points came when Mateas rolled past Josh Hagar 7-6 (8-6), 6-3 at the No. 3 singles spot and T.J. Pura defeated Alex Lawson in two sets on court four.
Duke’s No. 22 Nicolas Alvarez, then ranked No. 20, lost to No. 32 Quentin Monaghan—who is now ranked No. 42—by a score of 7-6 (7-5), 6-3. The two players are slated to once again face off in the No. 1 singles match Thursday.
“We have been working with each guy individually,” Smith said. “Obviously, Monaghan—their number one guy—is really good. He made the semis of the NCAAs last year, and he beat [Alvarez] when we played them at their place, but [Alvarez] is playing much better tennis right now, and he is super motivated. I’m really excited for him to get another shot at a big win.”
The Blue Devils practiced in Cary Wednesday in preparation for Thursday’s match. Duke will drive just 20 minutes down the road for its first conference tournament match, whereas the Fighting Irish will travel nearly 730 miles. The Blue Devils have played at Cary Tennis Park twice already this year at the James Bonk Invite in September and the ITA Regional Qualifiers in October.
“The nice thing about Cary is that we host two tournaments there in the fall,” Smith said. “We have had the ACCs there for 10 years now so we’re very familiar with it, and it’s kind of like a second home.”
If Duke finds its way past Notre Dame Thursday, it will take on the tournament’s No. 2 seed Wake Forest Friday. The Blue Devils lost to the No. 7 Demon Deacons 6-1 earlier this month.