Following an early exit in last spring's NCAA tournament, the Blue Devils are eager to get their fall season started at this weekend's James Bonk Invite.
The event will be held at the Cary Tennis Park in Cary, N.C., and runs from Friday through Sunday. The Blue Devils return all of their players from last season except T.J. Pura and will see how they stack up against players from four ACC opponents—Wake Forest, North Carolina, N.C. State and Louisville—as well as six other nonconference teams this weekend.
“We’ve focused a lot this fall on building the right culture and setting the tone. The guys have really put in the hard work,” head coach Ramsey Smith told GoDuke.com. “In the fall we are really trying to build and get in a lot of matches. We’re working on each player’s game, making some improvements and preparing for the spring season.”
Duke’s stars for this season are expected to be three returning members of the team each ranked in the top 100 of Oracle/ITA National Collegiate Rankings—No. 34 Nicolas Alvarez, No. 44 Spencer Furman and No. 61 Catalin Mateas, who is expected to make a big impact on the court as a junior this season.
In a slight shakeup from last season, doubles specialist Nick Stachowiak will compete alongside freshman Sean Sculley for the invitational. Spencer Furman, his partner from last year who constituted the other half of their 12th-ranked doubles team, will team up with junior Ryan Dickerson in the second doubles bracket.
Scully is positioned to play in the first-tier doubles bracket and will also be put to the test in his first singles match this weekend, as he plays against No. 76 Felipe Sarrasague from Elon.
“Sean has done a great job right off the bat fitting in with our group," Smith said. "I’m especially eager to watch him compete with Duke on his chest for the first time.”
Duke players are expected to do well in the opening round of their respective singles matches—besides Sculley, no Blue Devil will start off against a nationally-ranked opponent.
In doubles play, Mateas will take on a pair from North Florida with fellow junior Jason Lapidus, in the same bracket that Scully and Stachowiak will battle for this weekend. In the second tier of doubles, Ryan Dickerson and Furman will compete in the same bracket as No. 59 pair Joshua Peck and Simon Soendergaard from UNC, the only ranked team in that bracket.
Alvarez, the team's most elite player, is not slated to play this weekend and remains a major question mark for the upcoming season. Following a disappointing season due to a wrist injury that has kept him off the court since January, Blue Devil fans would love to see him return to his 2016 form, when he took home the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championship consolation title in the fall.
Smith also stated some concern about preserving the legacy of Bonk, for whom the tournament is named.
“We are at the point where some of our younger players don’t know Dr. Bonk. I want to make sure everyone knows exactly who he is, what he did for the program and what a special person he was,” Smith said. “Dr. Bonk is probably the most influential single person to the Duke tennis program. He was involved with the program for 50 years as an assistant coach, volunteer assistant coach, academic adviser and mentor.”
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Just as Bonk made his impact felt on the university, the Blue Devils hope to make an impact on the court when they take on teams from around the country this weekend.