There is an argument that no team has been more hurt by the cancellation of the 2020 spring sports season than the men’s tennis. With five freshmen, two acclaimed international transfers, and two top seniors, Dukes’ roster was particularly positioned to compete.
But now both seniors are gone and one of those acclaimed transfers failed to fly back from Switzerland in time for preseason training. Those freshmen in 2020 got just over a dozen competitions to adjust to the collegiate level, and one of the freshmen has turned pro. To call this a radical upheaval would be a criminal understatement.
It was really a gamble how this year would start, and it remains just as difficult to figure out how it will end. Early losses to No. 20 South Carolina, Northwestern and now No. 3 Tennessee wasn’t nearly as bad as the combined score of 1-12 would indicate, but they’ve been a real cold shower for a Blue Devil team with at least the conference title aspirations. Still, there’s talent here to dream about, and more than just a few universes where we look back on that early piece and laugh. -In Adler
New player to watch: Faris Khan
A notable newcomer to this season’s program is Faris Khan. While classmate Andrew Dale may come in as the higher-rated recruit, Khan has an excellent resume in his own right. The 6-foot Floridian was a top-five recruit for a high school knee injury and won the doubles title with his brother at the 2016 USTA National Clay Court Championships. He was also selected to represent the USA at the 2014 Junior Davis Cup , where he individually finished unbeaten.
Khan has already made a significant contribution to the program this year, winning all four of his singles competitions in non-conference. Heading into the teams’ ACC squad, the newcomer will no doubt play an important role in determining whether or not the Blue Devils live up to expectations. -Robert Miron
Returning player to watch: everyone
See, I know that’s a way out. You don’t have to tell me.
But it remains essential to keep in mind that we have absolutely no idea what a single returning player will look like on the field. The last time we saw them play Edu Gell was still working on consistency in his footwork and lower body mechanics; Luka Keist killed it on the second and third jobs; Garrett Johns argued for ACC Freshman of the Year from Court 4; Sam Rubell was dealing with a leg injury; Andrew Zhang was looking to take it to another level against the tougher competition; Sean Sculley was unwilling to play out consistently; and Michael Heller, a favorite for the six-spot this year, didn’t come in any standout matches during his freshman season.
The point is, there’s really no telling what someone is going to bring on any given day, and when you find out, that’s half the battle. -Adler
Most Anticipated Matchup: In North Carolina, March 17
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While a typical choice for any Duke sports season, the annual North Carolina game is especially important in tennis. The Tar Heels are currently number 2 in the country and remain undefeated by non-conference play, including their second ITA Team National Indoor Championship in the past six years. Duke is given the opportunity to enter Chapel Hill and take a massive victory over his hated rival, a win that would be a major resume builder for the young Blue Devils. -Miron
In the best case
As I said before, there is talent to dream about. And who needs veteran leadership when you have international stars and child prodigies galore? Duke could easily finish in the top few of the conference if the shots land where they should, and he could go a long way in the NCAA tournament. -Adler
In the worst case
Maybe some experience and leadership is not overestimated after all. Especially in a conference with talent on the wazoo, Duke could very easily end his season with an early exit from the ACC tournament. -Adler
Adler: 14-7 (10-3 in ACC), loss in ACC Semi-Finals, Loss in NCAA Quarter-Finals
Miron: 12-9 overall (8-5 in ACC), loss in ACC semifinals, loss in NCAA round of 64
Editor’s Note: This is part of The Chronicle’s series of previews for Duke’s spring sports, the rest of which can be found here
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