With seven returning players and one newcomer, Duke is ready to commence its fall season. Although the effects of Hurricane Florence left the annual James Bonk Invitational vacant last weekend, the Blue Devils are prepared for upcoming individual tournaments.

Duke will send three players down to Columbia, S.C. this weekend for the Gamecock Fall Invite. Without any match play thus far, senior Jason Lapidus, junior Robert Levine and freshman Robert Maciag kick off play Friday and finish Sunday. The tournament is hosted by South Carolina. With the inclusion of this tournament in the schedule, the Blue Devils will see the court officially for the first time before the All-American tournament next week.

The format of this weekend’s event consists of draws of 32 players each for singles as well as consolation matches to accompany a doubles slate.

Before the season even began, Duke’s former star player Nicolas Alvarez decided to forgo his final year of eligibility after graduating last May to jumpstart his professional career. That decision left not only a void at the top of the Blue Devils' lineup, but also in the leadership department.

“[Nico] was clearly our best player and then after that, we have a lot of guys that are on a very similar level, so it has really challenged the guys to step up from a tennis perspective,” Duke head coach Ramsey Smith said. “From a leadership perspective, I feel like Jason Lapidus has done a great job stepping into that role. He really wants to be a leader and a captain and has really done all the things right so far to put himself in that position to be a captain on this team.”

One of the Blue Devils' three seniors, Lapidus secured career highs in singles and doubles wins last year with 10 and 23, respectively. He only saw singles action in five dual matches, but walked away on the winning end three of those times. On the doubles side, Lapidus registered six and nine wins, respectively, in the second and third doubles slots, most frequently alongside classmate Ryan Dickerson.

The 2018 Robert C. Taylor Leadership Award winner has already displayed what the coaches are looking for in a leader. The Durham native’s guidance coupled with the leadership structure that Smith implements will yield results that blend team chemistry with skill.

“We have eight guys…so everyone has an influence on the team and everyone has an ability to lead and affect their teammates,” Smith said. “We really encourage a lot of horizontal leadership, where everyone does their role of leading by example and with their words.”

Levine finished his second season in the blue and white with 15 singles wins and three doubles victories. This weekend, the duo of Levine and Lapidus will serve as Duke’s lone entry on the doubles side.

The youngest member of the trio this weekend has already faced the best college tennis has to offer. Maciag faced off against Petros Chrysochos, the top player in the country and reigning singles champion, in the ATP Cary Challenger earlier in September. The Sterling, Va., native lost 2-6, 1-6 in the first round of the qualifying draw. On the first day of class, the freshman won the team mile competition as well as the bonus completion, displaying his fitness before the first practice.

“He’s been a little up and down, like all freshmen.... He’s been working hard and just trying to balance time management and sleep, all the normal stuff,” Smith said. “I feel like he’s one of those guys that gets extra focused for matches and I think kind of plays matches better than he practices, and he’s been practicing pretty well. He’s just eager to get out there get to compete with the Duke ‘D’ on his shirt.”

Catalin Mateas and Nick Stachowiak also competed in both the singles and doubles side of the tournament, with Stachowiak having received a wild card into the main draw of the challenger.

“[Maciag] got beaten pretty bad, but still it was a good experience for him to see the highest level of college tennis and what we need to work on,” Smith said. “Our doubles team played extremely well—Catalin Mateas and Nick Stachowiak, they played a really tough match where they had some chances, played extremely well, kind of showed us that could be a good team moving forward this spring.”

Sophomore Sean Sculley was touted by his head coach as one player that has raised his level of play significantly from the end of the last season. Over the summer, Sculley played in a couple of Futures tournaments in both singles and doubles, earning his first ATP point. Smith believes the sophomore’s success will translate well to the college setting this season upon his healthy return in the coming weeks after he was scratched from the Gamecock Invite.

After a recent NCAA change to the practice schedule, the Blue Devils were required to modify the structure of practice during the first few weeks of class.

“Obviously, with only one freshman, we have seven returning players that we already know and have a comfort level with and know their games well,” Smith said. “We did a lot of work in the summer to prepare for the start of the year. I’m very pleased with how things have gone so far. This is going to be a work in progress and we want to be at our best toward the end of fall and ultimately be preparing for the spring and the end of spring.”