SEATTLE, Wash. - Senior Reid Carleton fought off match point in a comeback victory that helped the 17th-ranked Blue Devils knock off the two-time defending national champions and No. 2 Southern California, 4-3, in the first round of the ITA National Team Indoor Championships in Seattle, Wash.
"I thought it was a phenomenal effort from our guys," said head coach Ramsey Smith. "Southern California is a great team and is well coached. We lost the doubles point but we did an amazing job of hanging in there and earning a win. Having Reid in the decider was pretty special and it was neat to see him come through in as much pressure as you can get."
Trailing 5-3 and facing match point, No. 6 Carleton found a way to get back in the match and force a second set tiebreaker. After controlling play for a 7-3 tiebreaker win he went to a third and final set with No. 16 Daniel Nguyen, the player who clinched each of Southern California's back-to-back national championship victories. The score was tied at 3-3 in the third when Carleton utilized his off-season fitness training to his advantage and won three straight games to clinch the match and send Duke on to the quarterfinals.
"I was just trying to take it one point at a time," said Carleton. "He was missing a lot of first serves that gave me a chance to be on the offensive. He played really well and is a good player but I continued to gain energy throughout the match and he started to get a little tired and wasn't hitting his normal shots."
Carleton became the ninth player in school history to record at least 20 singles victories in four straight seasons. He is now 20-4 on the season with 12 victories coming against ranked players.
"This win gives us a lot of confidence," said Carleton. "We lost the doubles point and pulled off four singles wins against the two-time defending national champions so if this doesn't give us confidence I don't know what will."
Duke needed both of its nationally ranked players to overcome match point as well as win tiebreakers in the second set in order for the Blue Devils to stay alive in the match.
No. 10 Henrique Cunha was in a dual with another top 10 player in No. 4 Steve Johnson at the No. 1 spot in the order. It was a rematch of the deciding match last season in Duke's 4-3 upset victory over the No. 3 Trojans when Cunha was ranked ninth and clinched the victory by taking a second-set tiebreaker to knock off the top-ranked Johnson in straight sets. This time around Cunha again pulled out the second-set tiebreaker after facing match point but Johnson was too strong in the third set, claiming a 6-2 win to knot the score at 3-3.
Things didn't look great for Duke to start off singles as the Trojans won the first set in four of the six matches. A tiebreaker win by Jared Pinsky at the No. 5 spot was one of two first-set victories for the Blue Devils and provided a spark for the rest of the players who were already in second sets.
"That was a big momentum moment," said Smith. "We had lost some first sets so with Jared hanging around and finding a way to win that first set kept us going. It was a big moment of the match that got us in the door a little bit."
Freshman Fred Saba was the other Duke player to win his first set and picked up a win at the No. 4 position after No. 37 Raymond Sarmiento retired down 4-2 in the second set. It was Saba's first career victory over a ranked opponent as he was 0-5 prior to the match against ranked foes.
After No. 38 Jaak Poldma of Southern California finished his match in straight sets to make it 2-1 Trojans, the Blue Devils won each of the other four straight sets. Pinsky cruised to a 6-1 win in his second set to even the team score at 2-2. He improved to 18-8 overall and 8-2 in dual match play. Junior Luke Marchese lost the first set but rallied from a 4-2 deficiti in the second to force three sets and would wind up winning 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 to put Duke in front 3-2.
The Blue Devils got off to a slow start by dropping the doubles point for just the third time in 10 matches this season. No. 9 Carleton and Cunha took care of business at the No. 1 position, 8-4, but Southern California won at the No. 2 and 3 spots to take a 1-0 lead in the match. Carleton and Cunha earned their 20th victory of the season, improving to 20-3 overall and 8-1 in dual matches.
Duke handed USC its first loss of the season as the Trojans fell to 7-1. The Blue Devils improved to 8-2 on the year with the victory and advance to the quarterfinals where they will face No. 11 Florida at 3 p.m. (ET) on Saturday.
Tennis Match Results
Duke vs Southern California
Feb. 18, 2011 at Seattle, Wash.
#17 Duke 4, #2 Southern California 3
1. #9 Reid Carleton/Henrique Cunha (Duke) def. Emilio Gomez/Daniel Nguyen (USC) 8-4
2. Jaak Poldma/JT Sundling (USC) def. Jared Pinsky/Fred Saba (Duke) 8-6
3. Michael Grant/Steve Johnson (USC) def. David Holland/Chris Mengel (Duke) 8-3
1. #4 Steve Johnson (USC) def. #10 Henrique Cunha (Duke) 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2
2. #6 Reid Carleton (Duke) def. #16 Daniel Nguyen (USC) 5-7, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3
3. #38 Jaak Poldma (USC) def. Chris Mengel (Duke) 7-5, 6-3
4. Fred Saba (Duke) def. #37 Ray Sarmiento (USC) 6-4, 4-2, retired
5. Jared Pinsky (Duke) def. Emilio Gomez (USC) 7-6 (8-6), 6-1
6. Luke Marchese (Duke) def. JT Sundling (USC) 2-6, 6-4, 6-4
Duke 8-2; National ranking #17
Southern California 7-1; National ranking #2
Order of finish: Doubles (3,1,2); Singles (4,3,5,6,1,2)
ITA National Team Indoors First Round