TEMPE, Ariz. – Duke men's tennis senior TJ Pura added a final accolade to his career, receiving the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Carolina Region Senior Most Improved Player award. Pura is Duke's second ITA Carolina Region Senior Most Improved Player recipient, joining Jason Tahir in 2015.
“The neatest thing about TJ is that he has left the program a lot better than when he came in,” head coach Ramsey Smith said. “We have had more wins before, but in terms of shaping the culture, leading and setting the foundation for success in the future, he has really, really taken that role. I'm really proud of him and how he is leaving the program. He has certainly set himself up for success in life. He will be extremely successful in whatever he decides to do.”
A third-team All-ACC selection as a senior, Pura finished the league regular season with an 11-0 record, marking the longest ACC winning streak in a single-season in program history, and tying the Duke mark for league wins in a campaign. At the end of the regular season, Pura received the program's first annual Robert C. Taylor Leadership Award.
He capped his senior year with a 30-9 overall singles record, eight more wins than his previous high. Of the Blue Devils' eight ACC victories, Pura clinched four of them – at Virginia Tech, against N.C. State, versus No. 27 Florida State and at No. 39 Louisville. The Pacific Palisades, Calif., product secured wins at No. 5 North Carolina and No. 2 Wake Forest by topping the Tar Heels' Jack Murray 6-3, 6-3 on court four and the Demon Deacons' Dennis Uspensky 6-2, 6-3 on court four.
“This year he absolutely invested everything into the team,” Smith said. “The guys saw that and fed off that. I'm not sure I've ever seen somebody improve his level so much after three years for his senior year. To be honest, we didn't know if he was going to be in the lineup. When we were in Hawai'i [in January] he wasn't in the top six. We had some injuries and he was really consistent with his results. He was the most dependable spot in our lineup, by far, no matter who he played. He rose to the occasion and played his best tennis against the best teams. And we played a lot of top-10 teams.”
Pura ended his time as a Blue Devil with an 86-42 career singles record and the fifth most ACC wins in a career by a Blue Devil with 30. He moved throughout the lineup during his career, experiencing action in the second through sixth slots. As a freshman, he earned 12 dual match decisions, going 9-2 on court six and 1-0 on court five. The following year, he again played primarily on courts five and six, going 4-1 in the fifth position and 12-4 in the sixth. Pura also went 1-0 on court four.
As a junior, Pura shot up the rankings and lineup and filled courts two through four exclusively. In the spring of 2016, he reached a career-high ranking of No. 102, also his first career singles ranking. He settled into the fourth through sixth courts as a senior, going 6-1 on court four, 9-1 on court five and 4-1 on court six.
Pura was an elected team captain during the 2015-16 season and has served in that role unofficially this season as no captains were selected. He has been the team's SAAC representative and is a two-time ACC Academic Honor Roll and ITA All-Academic Scholar-Athlete pick.