DURHAM, N.C. – Ranked seventh in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s latest poll, the Duke men’s tennis team is set to open the dual match portion of its season Friday, Jan. 17 when it hosts Elon at 6 p.m. in the Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center.
Under the direction of head coach Ramsey Smith and assistant coach Jonathan Stokke, the Blue Devils logged one of the most successful seasons in program history in 2013, compiling a 25-6 ledger and advancing to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championship. The squad returns nine letterwinners for the 2014 campaign, including 2013 ITA All-American Raphael Hemmeler and 2013 All-ACC honorees Fred Saba and Michael Redlicki.
Duke in the ITA Rankings
The Duke men’s tennis team opens the 2014 season ranked seventh by the ITA, while four individuals appear among the top-125 singles players on the list. Sophomore Michael Redlicki highlighted Duke in the singles rankings, appearing 29th, following a fall that saw the Hawthorn Woods, Ill., native finish 9-4 in singles play. Junior Jason Tahir moved up in the rankings to No. 52, the highest ranking of his collegiate career after collecting six wins in eight appearances on the fall. For sophomore Josh Levine, his No. 77 ranking marks the first time the Syosset, N.Y., native cracked the top-125. Levine opens dual-match competition on a four-match win streak. Sophomore Bruno Semenzato rounds out the Blue Devil contingent, tabbed as No. 95 in the preseason poll. Semenzato posted an impressive 3-1 ledger against nationally ranked opponents during his fall season.
Squad Completes Strong Fall Season
Despite battling through injury and illness during the fall, several Blue Devils turned in successful outings at a number of tournaments. Semenzato and freshman TJ Pura teamed up to capture a doubles title while Semenzato and Levine each won singles titles at the season-opening Duke Fab Four Invitational in September. At the ITA All-American Championships in October, Semenzato and junior Raphael Hemmeler upset Georgia’s second-ranked duo of Hernus Pieters and Ben Wagland in the qualifying round. Duke had a strong showing in singles and doubles at the ITA Carolina Regional and totaled five more singles titles with redshirt junior Cale Hammond claiming a title at the Wake Forest Invitational and Levine, Hammond, Pura and sophomore Daniel McCall all winning their singles draws at the Winthrop Invitational.
Levine compiled a team-best 13-3 singles record on the fall, while Hammond and Semenzato both went 12-4. Pura registered an 11-5 singles ledger in his first collegiate action and paired with Semenzato for a 4-1 mark in doubles. The tandem of Hammond and McCall was also strong with a 5-1 record.
“We improved as the fall went on,” Smith said. “We battled some injuries and illnesses and we didn’t have everyone healthy throughout the whole fall, but I felt like we made some jumps, particularly the guys in the bottom half of the lineup. I think we have a lot of guys at a similar level this year. Some of the guys that have been in the bottom half have stepped up and I feel like we have a lot of options.”
Blue Devils Looking to Build on Doubles Success
Although the Blue Devils lost the program’s all-time singles and doubles leader Henrique Cunha to graduation in May, Smith figures to count doubles as a strength once again in 2014. Hemmeler returns for his junior season after pairing with Cunha to reach the NCAA Doubles Championship quarterfinals last season, garnering ITA All-America accolades. The duo of Redlicki and Tahir combined for a 24-10 record in 2013, including a mark of 7-2 in ACC play. Duke featured a number of different doubles combinations this fall, including the tandem of Pura and Semenzato, which won a doubles title at the Fab Four Invitational and went 4-1 in tournament play.
“We have a lot of options with doubles,” Smith said. “I see us mixing around a little bit. We’re certainly not set in stone with any of our matchups right now.”
Duke Faces Tough Slate in 2014
Smith’s team faces a challenging 2014 slate, which includes four matches against top-10 opponents and all but two contests scheduled against ITA top-75 ranked teams. The Blue Devils face No. 9 Kentucky in the opening weekend of the dual-match season before traveling to Knoxville, Tenn., Feb. 7, to compete against No. 6 Tennessee. The Blue Devils will be tested in March, facing No. 10 Oklahoma March 15 in San Diego and returning home to compete against No. 1 Virginia March 23. Additional top-50 ranked teams on Duke’s schedule include No. 19 Wake Forest, No. 22 Illinois, No. 23 Clemson, No. 29 Notre Dame, No. 31 VCU, No. 35 NC State, No. 36 Florida State, No. 38 Virginia Tech, No. 43 North Carolina and No. 49 San Diego State.
Pura a Strong Addition to Duke Program
Freshman TJ Pura enters the 2014 season after a successful fall campaign that saw the Pacific Palisaides, Calif., native post an 11-5 ledger. In his first collegiate tournament, Pura compiled a 2-2 record reaching the Black Bracket consolation finals at the Duke Fab Four Invitational. Pura capped the fall season by winning his singles bracket at the Winthrop Invitational. Pura begins dual-match competition after concluding fall play on a four-match singles winning streak.
Pura also excelled in doubles play, notching a 10-2 record after pairing with teammates Semenzato, McCall and Levine. Pura opened his doubles collegiate campaign in convincing fashion, teaming with Semenzato to capture the White Bracket of doubles competition at the Duke Fab Four Invitational. Partnered with Levine, Pura closed his fall doubles competition by reaching the semifinals of the Winthrop Invitational. The pairing of Levine and Pura opens dual-match season with a three-match win streak, while Pura and McCall ended the fall on a two-match win streak.
“He put in a lot of work,” Smith said. “TJ really played unbelievably well in the last fall tournament. He put it all together. That was a nice end to the fall and he’s come back in good shape for the spring and he’s going to be in the mix for singles and doubles on our deep team.”
Blue Devils to Host ITA Kick-Off Weekend
Duke will serve as one of 15 host sites for the annual ITA Kick-Off Weekend event Jan. 25-26 at the Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center, facing Oregon Saturday, Jan. 25 at 10 a.m. The winner of that match will face the winner of the second match between San Diego State and North Carolina Sunday, Jan. 26 at 4 p.m., with the winning team advancing to the ITA National Team Indoors Feb. 14-17 in Houston, Texas. For more information about Kick-Off Weekend, visit the ITA website.
Tahir Tabbed Team Captain
Tahir was selected the Blue Devils’ team captain for the 2014 season. A native of Rochester, N.Y., he played to a 30-5 singles record and a 25-10 mark in doubles as a sophomore and earned an at-large bid into the NCAA Doubles Championship. The junior ranked second in program history in career singles winning percentage (.812) heading into the 2013-14 campaign and has previously earned spots on the All-ACC Academic Team and the ACC Academic Honor Roll.