ATHENS, Ga. - Both of Duke's No. 1 seeds advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Individual Championships at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga. on Friday.
Henrique Cunha and Reid Carleton picked up their second doubles win in as many days to move on to the quarterfinals with a three-set victory over No. 16 Amit Inbar and Nick Meister of UCLA. The Blue Devils broke UCLA's serve to go up 4-2 in the first set. The Bruins took a 40-love lead in the next game but failed to break three times as Carleton and Cunha notched five straight points to extend their lead. They went on to close out the set, 6-3.
"UCLA was a team that was hot coming in," said Calreton. "They had been playing really well and today was a very high-level match. We played pretty solid and the one game we got broken in the second set we had a couple of balls right by the lines so today was a good win for us."
Inbar and Meister broke early in the second set and led 3-0. It was all the cushion they needed as they reversed the first set score to win 6-3 and forced a deciding third set. The final set was right on serve at 4-3 when one of the closest games of the match took place. Duke missed out on four chances to break while UCLA had three chances to seal the game before finally converting on their fourth opportunity.
"Even though we weren't able to capitalize in that game it was a really important game for us," said Carleton. "We hadn't really been in too many of their service games so it was important to do that and put pressure on them."
In the next service game, it was Cunha's turn to serve and he came through with four big serves to quickly put Duke ahead 5-4. The Blue Devils' would then find themselves up 40-30 with a chance to break serve for the win and this time they would not let the break chance slip by as Cunha hit a winner to give Duke the 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 win.
"The game at 4-4 was the key game of the match," said Cunha. "We stayed really focused after have a lot of opportunities to break at 4-3 and we won all four points to put the pressure on them. Then we were able to break for the win as Reid hit a good crosscourt return off the serve and then I crossed and hit a volley winner."
Carleton and Cunha improve to 41-5 overall and have won eight straight. They are 15-5 against ranked opponents with nine wins over top 25 teams. The Duke pair will have another tough test on Saturday as they face No. 14 Drew Courtney and Michael Shabaz for the fourth time this season. Out of the previous three matches only one has finished. Duke claimed an 8-6 win in the regular season. The Blue Devils led 8-7 when the doubles point was clinched in the ACC Tournament and last week in the NCAA Tournament the match was in an 8-8 tiebreaker with the Cavaliers leading 5-3 when Virginia claimed the doubles point.
Cunha won for the third consecutive day in singles. He played a tough match against the No. 14 player in the ITA singles rankings, Virginia's Sanam Singh. In the first set, Cunha was able to void off three break chances by Singh while coming up with a break of his own with the score 3-2. With the score tied at 1-1 Cunha trailed 40-15 on his own serve and managed to come back and hold serve. Later in the match after be broke to go up 4-2 he was down 30-40 and rattled off three straight points to take a 5-2 lead in the set. He went on to serve it out for a 6-3 first-set win.
Singh came out strong in the second set, breaking Cunha's serve to take an early 2-0 lead. However, Cunha showed his mental toughness and broke right back to get the set back on serve. It would remain that way until Singh had a break chance for the set, leading 6-5. Cunha came through with the point and knotted things up at 6-6 to force a tiebreaker. Singh had a 4-1 lead in the tiebreaker before Cunha scored four straight points to take a 5-4 lead. Things were evened up at 6-6 when Cunha got the next point and then hit a good serve that Singh sent into the net to end to give Cunha the 7-6 (8-6) second set win and the match.
"It was important for me to finish the match in straight sets because it is pretty warm here, but I am taking care of my body," said Cunha. "I played really well in the first set and took my chances. The second set was played at a high level. He was playing well and I was playing well. We both were holding our serves and I knew the tiebreaker was important for the match. I knew if I won that I would have a really hard match tomorrow."
The win sends Cunha into the quarterfinals becoming the first Duke player to advance that far in singles since Phillip King lost to Tulane's Michael Kogan in 2004. Cunha is now 38-5 in singles this season with 23 consecutive victories dating back to his last loss on Jan. 31. He has compiled a record of 26-3 against ranked opponents, including 12 wins over players ranked in the top 25. Next up Cunha will face No. 9 Robert Farah of Southern California on Saturday.
Times for all of Saturday's matches will be updated later this evening at the following links.