Early Delivery Keeps Coach at Home, but Duke Advances to Quarterfinals with Wee Hours Victory Over Kentucky
©Colette Lewis 2013--
Duke head coach Ramsey Smith was not with his team for their quarterfinal match with Kentucky because his wife Kathy went into labor seven weeks early. Kathy Sell Smith, the former head coach of the Princeton women's team, delivered a baby girl Sophie, and his team delivered a 4-2 quarterfinal victory over the eighth-seeded Wildcats in a match that ended at 12:24 a.m. on Friday morning.
Assistant coach Jonathan Stokke took over for Smith, and the No. 9 Blue Devils had time to get used to the idea that Smith would not be traveling with them to the Sweet 16.
"As the week went on, it became pretty obvious that he wasn't going to be here for this match," said Stokke. "So we knew it, and we've been in contact with him, but I don't think he appreciated that he'd been dealing with his wife's labor for four days and then we give him this match going to 1 a.m. his time. It's kind of crazy and out of left field, and something I'm not prepared to deal with, or the guys, but everyone did a good job."
"As important as Ramsey and I like to think we are, they hit every ball," Stokke continued. "So if someone's going to be out, I'd rather it be one of us than one of them. We said if everyone takes care of what they need to do, execute their game plan the best they can, we'll have a chance."
The doubles point set the tone for the entire match, with Kentucky finally taking in after an hour and 23 minutes with a 9-7 win at No. 3.
But despite losing that point, Stokke said the team remained positive about their chances in the singles.
"We put through an awesome doubles point and they beat us," Stokke said. "We got the huddle and said, no regrets, we played an awesome point and we've six points left."
Duke won five of the six first sets in singles, and Jason Tahir brought them even quickly with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Beck Pennington at line 6. Tom Jomby put Kentucky back in the lead with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Fred Saba at No. 2, then Chris Mengel tied it again with a 6-2, 7-5 win over Kevin Lai at line 4.
Henrique Cunha and Anthony Rossi were locked in a tight battle at No. 1, with the level as high as you'd expect from two players ranked in the Top 10. Cunha broke for 5-3 in the second set, but dropped his serve, giving Rossi a chance to pull even. Rossi saved one match point with an amazing running backhand crosscourt pass, but Cunha got another, and this time Rossi could not pull off another difficult shot, and the usually calm Cunha celebrated giving Duke a 3-2 lead by falling to his knees.
"It's a little bizarre situation with Ramsey, but our team had worked so hard the past couple of weeks and we were ready for this tournament," said the senior from Brazil. "It's my senior year, my last chance to play here and I told the guys I'm going to leave it all on the court. I played well--he's a really good player, and it was a really tough match. The last couple of matches, I'm always thinking it could be my last match, so that gets me a little emotional. And I told everyone, let's win for him, so he can get back and see us play."
Stokke, who had some unofficial coaching assistance from Ramsey's father Stan Smith, who was in attendance, had not heard for certain whether Smith would join the team for Saturday's match with UCLA.
"I think there's a good chance he'll get here tomorrow night," said Stokke. "I haven't checked my phone yet, but we're hoping he'll be here."
With the 3-2 lead, Duke needed just one of the two matches still on court, and it was Raphael Hemmeler who delivered at No. 5, winning the final four games in his 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 win over Grant Roberts.
"It could have gone either way," said Stokke. "Rafa's in a tight third, Red (Michael Redlicki) is in a tight third, Rossi's saving match points and we could have easily lost that match. But all we wanted was a chance, and we won the pressure points, which was great."
NOTE: This post was actually put up at 2 a.m Friday, but for the sake of keeping all the men's matches on the same day, it has been backdated.
No. 9 Duke 4, No. 8 Kentucky 2
7 p.m. CT – North Courts
1. #9 Henrique Cunha (DUKE) def. #5 Anthony Rossi (KY) 7-5, 6-4
2. #23 Tom Jomby (KY) def. #43 Fred Saba (DUKE) 6-4, 6-2
3. Charles Minc (KY) vs. #46 Michael Redlicki (DUKE) 3-6, 6-3, 4-2*
4. #121 Chris Mengel (DUKE) def. Kevin Lai (KY) 6-2, 7-5
5. #74 Raphael Hemmeler (DUKE) def. Grant Roberts (KY) 6-3, 5-7, 6-2
6. Jason Tahir (DUKE) def. Beck Pennington (KY) 6-3, 6-2
1. #2 Cunha/Hemmeler (DUKE) def. #9 Jomby/Lai (KY) 8-4
2. Hirooka/Pennington (KY) def. #19 Tahir/Redlicki (DUKE) 8-0
3. Rossi/Murra (KY) def. Saba/Semenzato (DUKE) 9-7
Order of Finish: Doubles (2,1,3); Singles (6,2,4,1,5)
* = unfinished