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Duke men's tennis continues hot streak to begin ACC play

Sophomore Andrew Zhang was one of four Blue Devils to secure straight-set wins against Clemson Sunday.
Sophomore Andrew Zhang was one of four Blue Devils to secure straight-set wins against Clemson Sunday.

Duke men’s tennis is riding high on momentum.

After back-to-back ACC victories on the road against Georgia Tech and Clemson this past weekend, the Blue Devils have now won four straight matches. The team made easy work of the Yellow Jackets Friday, winning the matchup 6-1, before escaping with a 4-3 win against the Tigers Sunday.

“Every road match is gonna be a challenge in conference, and obviously the perfect start, for us to get two big wins on the road. I really think the two weeks of preparation that we had going into ACC play made the difference,” head coach Ramsey Smith said Sunday. “All the guys were working hard, working on some doubles and we were able to build on that and continue the momentum.”

Doubles has been a point of focus for the Blue Devils, with the doubles point serving as a confidence-builder that drives momentum going into the singles matches.

“We’re trying to find the best three teams we can put out there to give us the best chance to win two out of three,” Smith said. “We worked a lot on being more aggressive, and trying to get both players to the net as much as possible. Today we put a new team in—Sam Rubell and Andrew Zhang—and they’ve been working hard and practicing well. They were the first match off and got a good win. The doubles point is pretty cool for momentum.”

However, even with Zhang and Rubell pulling out the win in their match, Duke (6-4, 2-0 in the ACC) proved unable to secure that critical doubles point against Clemson, with the Tigers winning the two other doubles matches.

Nevertheless, the Blue Devils came out firing on all cylinders in the singles matches. Sophomores Garrett Johns and Andrew Zhang, freshman Andrew Dale and senior Sean Sculley all recorded straight-set victories, clinching the match win for Duke. 

“The doubles point is pretty critical for momentum, but today we showed ourselves that we could still beat a really good team on the road even with losing a tough doubles point,” Smith said.

Several individual performances over the weekend were particularly notable in helping drive momentum. 

In the first match of the weekend against Georgia Tech (6-5, 1-3), sophomore Michael Heller only gave up three games and won commandingly over Chen Dong, breaking the Yellow Jacket freshman’s undefeated streak in dual matches on the year. 

Johns played No. 1 singles in both his weekend matches and came away with two big wins, including his dominating straight-set victory over Yizhou Liu of Clemson (5-6, 1-3). 

Sculley also had two singles victories over the weekend, including the clinching win against the Tigers on a day of tight scoreboard margins.

“Sean Sculley was unbelievable—he was the clincher,” Smith said. “He was down 5-2 in the tiebreaker in the second set, and the other matches were getting really close, so he dug in and finished off the tiebreaker to clinch, which was impressive”. 

Duke has another eventful weekend of tennis coming up, as it plays two more ACC road matchups at Louisville and Notre Dame this Friday and Sunday, respectively. But the squad is definitely feeling the momentum of its four-match win streak, and has proven it can overcome tough circumstances to get back in the win column.

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