While the Blue Devils cruised to two easy sweeps this past weekend, it wasn’t just a couple of get-right matches for Duke, as two elite freshman prospects donned the blue and white for the first time in a dual meet.
Andrew Dale, the No. 2 recruit in the Class of 2020, transferred to Duke this spring after spending last semester at Princeton, where he was unable to compete due to the Ivy League's decision on playing amid COVID-19. The Virginia native dropped only a pair of games in his two match victories on the weekend.
Faris Khan, a top-five recruit in this class before a junior-year knee injury, took home two wins of his own, one in 6-0, 6-4 fashion and the other via a 1-6, 6-0, 6-3 comeback.
Overall, Duke swept Campbell and UNC-Wilmington 7-0 this past Friday and Sunday, respectively.
“We have a unique situation, at least from my perspective as a coach, where we have a really even team,” assistant coach Maciek Sykut said. “There's not any drop off down at the bottom, and we have the ability to rotate guys in, and we got a lot of great weekends to get our guys their first dual matches.
"To [Dale and Khan’s] credit, they came out and they were responding…. I think that's part of the development, and that can only help us with the depth…. It keeps their legs fresh, and keeps everyone sharp. I thought it was a great opportunity, and they took advantage of it.”
The Blue Devils have recruited exceptionally well during head coach Ramsey Smith’s 13-year tenure, securing six top-five freshman classes. That’s how the team ended up with an absurdly young squad last year. And with none of that group's seniors returning—despite the NCAA's extra eligibility option—and three more freshmen joining, the narrative remains the same.
It stands to reason, then, that you couldn’t really ask for a better weekend than this. Campbell and UNC-Wilmington are perennial nonconference matchups for the Blue Devils—as pure tune-up games, they’re as close as Duke gets to “buy games” in tennis.
With Dale and Khan notching their first appearances and wins after being unavailable due to injury for the opening weekend, sophomore Garrett Johns getting more run at the No. 1 singles spot and the rest of the team also getting some winning opportunities, the Blue Devils finally were provided some of the early season ramping up Smith said they desperately needed last week.
Unfortunately, Smith wasn’t there to see it all. Sykut acted as head coach on Sunday against the Seahawks with Smith “unavailable due to sickness.” It was the first head coaching opportunity for Sykut, who left an associate head coach position at Arizona to come to Duke this past summer, after previously spending his playing and early coaching days at Florida State and N.C. State, respectively.
“It feels great [rooting for Duke] to be honest,” said Sykut. “I'm proud to be a part of the program which has this rich history, I am proud to be working alongside Ramsey [Smith] and it feels good to be back in the Triangle.”
Whether the Blue Devils are sufficiently prepared is going to be tested immediately, as the team hits the road next weekend with trips to No. 10 Tennessee and No. 21 Kentucky.
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