His junior year was supposed to be the season when Nicolas Alvarez made the leap and solidified himself as one of the top college tennis players in the country. The Lima, Peru native had an excellent sophomore campaign, leading the line for Duke at No. 1 singles and ending the year ranked as the No. 22 singles player in the country.

Alvarez started the season strong as well, capturing the ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate consolation championship in the fall of 2016, knocking off multiple ranked foes along the way and setting himself up for a strong spring campaign.

But Alvarez suffered a wrist injury and was forced to miss the entire spring season as he recovered, watching the Blue Devils fight through adversity to earn an NCAA tournament berth and finish in the top half of the ACC.

“I think the hardest thing for any athlete to do is to sit on the sidelines and watch,” Duke head coach Ramsey Smith said. “And obviously with him being our No. 1 player, that made it even harder.”

Alvarez partially tore his TFCC, an injury often caused by falling on an outstretched hand and especially common in racquet sports. He elected not to have surgery, instead opting to rehab and sit out the season, giving the injury time to heal. Since he missed the season, Alvarez was given a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA and has granted an extra year of eligibility. 

“I’m really glad we handled it the way we did,” Smith said. “He was able to redshirt and get that entire year back and I think the best thing was that we gave it time and didn’t opt for surgery, because surgery, especially on the right wrist, can be a scary thing. You never know how it is going to recover.”

The redshirt junior made a full recovery and resumed playing in tournaments over the summer, slowly working off the rust and regaining his previous form. He returned to the court for the Blue Devils this fall and showed flashes of his old self, advancing to the quarterfinals of the ITA Carolina Regional behind four straight-set wins. 

The summer and fall seasons were instrumental to Alvarez getting back in playing shape and preparing for the main spring season. He has started the spring in phenomenal form, playing at No. 1 singles for Duke. Alvarez is undefeated thus far in the spring, including a victory against Michael Geerts, the No. 51 player in the country. He was also leading No. 18 Timo Stodder of Tennessee when the match was called since the team match was already decided. 

“I think he’s absolutely back,” Smith said. “His wrist is back, it’s strong, it’s not affecting his play. He’s been working hard on developing other aspects of his game. His transition and net play is as good as I’ve ever seen it. And most importantly, I think he’s worked himself into a really good mindset. When you deal with a major injury, the mental side of it can be as hard as the physical side of it, and I think he’s in an awesome place mentally.”

Alvarez will be relied upon as a linchpin of the Blue Devils’ lineup this season, as the team is expected to take a step forward and possibly contend near the top of the ACC after last year’s strong performance. Combining Alvarez’s talents with on-the-rise sophomores Spencer Furman, Robert Levine and Nick Stachowiak and junior Catalin Mateas means that Duke has plenty of quality depth in both singles and doubles and can mix and match lineups depending on the opponent.

“It gives everybody confidence, not just knowing that he’s up there playing No. 1 [singles], but has a shot to win at No. 1,” Smith said. “All the points count the same, but there’s something about the lineup and having confidence in someone that can consistently compete and beat some of the top players in the country, and I think that Nico is one of the best players in the country when he’s healthy.”