Following a dominant Senior Day victory at home last Saturday and six wins in their last eight matches, the Blue Devils will hit the road this weekend for one more regular-season contest looking to end the season on a high note.
Senior TJ Pura gave his team another strong performance—extending his ACC singles winning streak to 10 matches, the fourth-longest in program history—to finish his career in Durham, and the Blue Devils will be looking for a similar outcome against Louisville at the Bass-Rudd Tennis Center in Louisville, Ky., at 3:30 p.m Friday.
Although the team has been riddled by injuries for much of the season, Duke has all but star junior Nicholas Alvarez back on the court, ending the season with one of the best lineups it has played all year.
“We’re definitely the most healthy we’ve been, and the guys have stayed together through some tougher times,” Blue Devil head coach Ramsey Smith said. “They have kept a very positive attitude. Basically we’re just playing very good tennis—the best we’ve played.”
Rounding out ACC play and the regular season against an evenly-matched team in the Cardinals, Duke (14-8, 7-4 in the ACC) is hoping to keep up the momentum in doubles with the impressive freshmen pairing of Nick Stachowiak and Spencer Furman on Court 1.
Despite not even being ranked until earlier this month, the rookie duo has climbed up 59 spots in the last two weeks, jumping to No. 22 in Tuesday's rankings after going 18-2 together this year.
“Nick and Spencer have been amazing—they’ve lost two matches in the spring and have played a huge chunk of that at [No. 1 doubles,] finally being rewarded in the rankings,” Smith said. “The biggest thing for them is figuring out ways to hold [serve] a little bit easier because they break every single match and usually multiple times.”
With Stachowiak and Furman leading the way, Smith's team has had success in doubles this season, winning 15 of 22 doubles points during the spring.
But with so many injuries, the Blue Devils have struggled in singles and repeatedly shuffled their lineup. With the return of freshman Robert Levine after a month out with mononucleosis, however, the team’s singles has stepped up once again, winning at least half of the individual singles matchups in the last five matches.
“He's got enough matches underneath his belt to where he feels comfortable,” Smith said. “He’s been able to get regular practice in the last couple weeks so I think he feels 'match tough' now."
With the return of Levine to the top half of the singles lineup, sophomore Jason Lapidus has turned his focus to doubles as Stachowiak, Pura and sophomore Ryan Dickerson have each dropped down one spot.
Nonetheless, the bottom half of the lineup continues to shine with Pura and Dickerson playing some of their best tennis as of late.
“With getting Robert back in, that pushes Ryan down to [Court 6] but Ryan’s got to be one of the best sixes in the country,” Smith said. “And those guys [at the bottom of the lineup] have won convincingly quite a bit which really helps give everyone a lot of confidence.”
Both Duke and Louisville (19-6, 6-4) have had impressive wins on the season against conference opponents including notable wins against Clemson, Notre Dame and Miami. And although the Cardinals fell to Florida State—a team the Blue Devils upset—both teams have struggled against top ACC foes such as No. 20 Georgia Tech, No. 3 Virginia and No. 1 Wake Forest.
Louisville poses a threat to Duke with its impressive 16-2 home record, which could challenge a Duke side that has struggled away from home and gone 2-7 on the road. The Cardinals are led by the No. 47 doubles team in the nation in Parker Wynn and Sean Donohue and rely on balance with no singles players in the top 100—the Blue Devils have two top-100 competitors in No. 87 Furman and 100th-ranked Catalin Mateas.
“Louisville is a very good team—they’ve had a great season and they’re extremely tough at home,” Smith said. "It’s going to be a great match, but I think our guys are in the right mindset. They’re hungry for more and to keep things rolling.”
With the Cardinals as the final match for Duke before next week's ACC tournament in Rome, Ga., and the teams jostling for the No. 5 seed in the event, all of the Blue Devils' energy is focused on ending its season with a positive weekend.
“Our focus has been next match only—that’s the only thing we’re worried about,” Smith said. “We’re not worried about the rankings, the ACC tournament, the NCAAs, we’re just taking care of what we can control and we’ve done a good job of that.”
Sameer Pandhare contributed reporting.