Duke’s men’s tennis team has played four of its spring matches with home-field advantage in Durham, and the other during their winter break trip in Hawaii. The Blue Devils, however, can’t stay in paradise forever, and are now traveling to face two ranked teams in the Midwest.
No. 5 Duke (5-0) will continue its Spring campaign Friday against No. 25 Illinois (2-2) and Sunday against No. 30 Notre Dame (3-2). Their first stop will be in Urbana, Ill. to face the Fighting Illini, who have yet to pick up a victory at home.
“Duke is a great team, and they’ve done a super job of creating this year’s squad,” Illinois head coach Brad Dancer said. “It’s going to be a challenge for everyone they play against this year, and they will certainly be a force to be reckoned with [for us].”
Freshman Jared Hiltzik is the only player on the Illini roster nationally ranked by the ITA, coming in at No. 114 for singles. In Illinois’ most recent match, Hiltzik, along with sophomore Ross Guigon, were the only players to score points in Illinois’ 4-2 loss to Tulsa at the ITA Kickoff Weekend.
Meanwhile, all six of Duke’s singles competitors, and all three of their doubles pairs, are ranked by the ITA. Topping the list is No. 11 Henrique Cunha, who, with 121 singles wins, is just seven wins away from becoming Duke’s all-time leader in career singles victories. Cunha and his doubles partner, No. 38 Raphael Hemmeler, are the No. 1 duo in the country.
“[Duke is] led by one of the best players over the last few years, Cunha, who doesn’t lose any dual matches and has been very, very impressive,” Dancer said. “They’ve got great players throughout the lineup.”
Next, the Blue Devils will face Notre Dame, which is coming off a 4-0 win against No. 32 Memphis. The Fighting Irish are led by freshman Quentin Monaghan in the third singles spot, who defeated Memphis’ Lukas Vrnak to clinch the sweep for Notre Dame. Monaghan’s performance earned him Big East Player of the Week honors. He is the second consecutive Irish to be named Player of the Week, following No. 80 junior Greg Andrews, who will face Cunha—coincidentally, the reigning ACC Player of the Week—in the first singles spot.
Both Illinois and Notre Dame should be challenges for Duke, but both squads have reason to fear the Blue Devils. Duke travels to the Midwest with its entire roster ranked both individually and in doubles pairs, and they are looking to preserve their young, undefeated season.
“They’re a great team, great guys, and it’ll be a big challenge for us Illini this weekend,” Dancer said.
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