Same sets, different day.
For the second time in the past three weeks, No. 10 seed Duke put up a valiant fight against No. 2 seed Wake Forest, but lost 4-0. The Blue Devils, who opened the ACC Championship with a second-round 4-2 win against Louisville, dropped the doubles point against the Demon Deacons by just a break to get things started Saturday. Then, Duke managed to send three singles matches to three sets and play stopped just two points away from a singles point on court six.
“We had a good win against Louisville and we actually played pretty well last night,” said head coach Ramsey Smith. “It was just strange to see the final score's 4-0, but it was a battle… We were really close to putting some real pressure on them, but it just doesn't reflect in the final score.”
Duke took care of business against the Cardinals, picking up the doubles point before winning 4-2, with the match stopping just a few games away from becoming a 5-2 Duke victory. Senior Luca Keist, on court four, was particularly impressive, playing in his first match since April 8 and winning 6-3, 7-6 (7-3).
The Blue Devils’ match against the Demon Deacons, on the other hand, was tight from the start. The first and second doubles matches were each clearly going to Wake and Duke, respectively, while Keist and freshman Andrew Dale dropped the third doubles match 6-4 after the Demon Deacons won four straight points and then held serve late in the proceedings.
No. 1 singles Garrett Johns quickly fell behind against Henri Squire, the No. 10 player in the country, while No. 6 singles Dale grabbed an early lead against Filippo Moroni. The middle four courts—featuring No. 2 Sean Sculley, No. 3 Andrew Zhang, and No. 4 Edu Güell—saw the Blue Devils each drop their respective initial salvos.
Sculley, Güell, and No. 5 Keist would all push their matches to three sets, but Güell dropped the final frame 6-3, sealing the 4-0 result.
“It was nice that it was more of our complete lineup,” Smith said. “That's the first match that Edu's played since the UNC match, he's had left wrist injuries, so he didn't have the best preparation, but he jumped in there and competed like crazy and really had some chances.”
Obviously, pushing the No. 9 team in the country as hard as the Blue Devils did is an accomplishment in and of itself. But Friday’s competition just put an exclamation point on what has been a month-long, season-saving comeback.
March 28, Duke lost to Virginia Tech 4-3. Since then, the Blue Devils have gone 5-3, with convincing wins over Liberty and Miami, and losses to then-No. 2 North Carolina and twice to now-No. 9 Wake Forest. All of which despite, in the middle of that run, Sam Rubell falling out of the lineup and Scuelly, Güell and Keist all missing events due to injury.
“I feel like we've made some real big strides the last two weeks. We've played our way into the NCAA tournament, which was nice,” Smith said. “Our backs were against the wall, going into the last weekend of the regular season, and we were down a couple guys with injury, and to be able to beat Florida State and Miami and then Louisville, I think locks us into that top-35 range, which should get us into the tournament, which is obviously a huge goal for us.”
The Blue Devils will have to wait a week to hear their name called when the NCAA announces it’s men’s tennis tournament May 3rd. Assuming the host does in fact call “Duke,” the team will have a couple more weeks of practice before the tournament’s opening rounds.
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