The doubles duo of Sean Sculley and Garrett Johns had an early round exit in the NCAA Doubles Championship.
The pair was unable to advance past the first match, as Sculley and Johns lost 6-0, 6-4 Monday to Tennessee's doubles team of Adam Walton and Pat Harper in Orlando, Fla., to officially cap off the last match of any Blue Devil this season.
“We just got off to a really tough start,” head coach Ramsey Smith said. “I think a little nerves came into play and we didn’t execute quite as well, and Tennessee just came out firing and they served at an incredibly high percentage. We just got down early and that first set went by really quick.”
A tough start is an apt description for the match’s opening set, as the embattled duo failed to win even a single game against its Tennessee opponents and quickly found themselves at the wrong end of a 6-0 scoreline.
A possible reason for the rough start is that Sculley and Johns played timidly in the beginning of the match, and the nerves that come with competing in such an important tournament certainly looked to be a factor as well.
Tennessee clearly appeared more at ease on the court, but it is important to note that Duke’s opponents benefited from much more competitive match experience leading up to the doubles contest. Duke lost to South Florida in the first round of the team competition, but Tennessee advanced all the way to the semifinals, meaning Walton and Harper had many more matches under their belt going into their bout with Sculley and Johns. As a result, any nerves Sculley and Johns had can at least be partially explained by their comparative lack of match opportunities to loosen up and play aggressive tennis.
As to why the first set was so one-sided, Smith cited serving as a major factor in setting apart Sculley and Johns from their opponents across the net.
“In the beginning they served extremely well and we served poorly, and that allowed them to clean up the net a lot better than us,” Smith said. “We were just on the defense and didn’t get into enough of their service games.”
Despite the rough opening set, Sculley and Johns were not going to go quietly. The second set was much closer, ending 6-4 in favor of Tennessee.
“We just settled in,” Smith said. “We tried to force the issue a little bit and started playing our game and our tennis. Sean started returning exceptionally well and that second set could have gone either way."
Sometimes straight set score lines don’t convey just how close a tennis match was, and Duke’s doubles contest against Tennessee is a good example. For instance, Sculley and Johns were down 5-4 but up 15-40 on Tennessee’s serve, and since no-ad scoring was in place for the doubles tournament, Duke just had to win one of the next three points to even the second set at 5-5.
But Walton and Harper stormed back to win three straight points and take the match in straight sets, ending the tournament for Sculley and Johns.
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The loss caps a disappointing national showing for the Duke squad as it failed to capture a single victory in either the Team Championship or the Doubles Championship, and the Blue Devils will have to wait until next year for another shot at glory on college tennis’ biggest stage.