Quentin Tarantino could not have scripted a better Senior Day for Fred Saba.
Following a 4-3 win against No. 25 Wake Forest Friday, No. 14 Duke pulled off a 5-2 come-from-behind upset of rival No. 8 North Carolina Sunday at Ambler Tennis Stadium, clinching the No. 2 seed in this week's ACC tournament.
“Impossible,” Saba said. “It can’t get any better than this.”
Despite all the emotions of playing his last home match, Saba played an exceptional match, upsetting No. 30 Ronnie Schneider 7-5, 6-3 for the second time this season.
“He proved this time that [the first victory] wasn’t a fluke,” Duke head coach Ramsey Smith said. “Fred really stepped up on his Senior Day.”
The highlight for No. 46 Saba came on the first point of his final game. Schneider thought he had gotten off to an early lead when he whipped a ball down the line, but Saba surprisingly reached the ball and hit an improbable forehand return, curving it just inside the line to stun the Tar Heel freshman.
“Destiny just willed that ball in,” Saba said. “That is probably the greatest shot I’ve ever hit on a tennis court. I had no idea I was going to get to the ball. I just put a good swing to it and hooked it around the court.”
Duke (18-5, 10-1 in the ACC) got off to a slow start against the Tar Heels (22-4, 9-2), dropping the doubles point and then falling into an 0-2 hole after Raphael Hemmeler was unable to fight off No. 63 Brett Clark, losing 1-6, 4-6.
But the Blue Devils would respond. Within two minutes of Hemmeler’s loss, Saba wrapped up his match, and No. 86 Bruno Semenzato defeated Oysten Steiro 6-4, 6-3 to tie the match at 2-2.
Duke took the lead with a win by freshman T.J. Pura at sixth singles, defeating Nelson Vick 6-3, 6-3. The win marked the sixth consecutive singles win in ACC play for the energetic Pura.
But things still did not look good for the Blue Devils as both No. 36 Jason Tahir and Josh Levine went down a break in their respective matches, and it looked like North Carolina was taking control. But then Duke caught a little bit of luck.
With Tahir down 1-2 against No. 10 Braydon Schnur, Schnur took too long to serve, and since he had already been warned, the freshman automatically lost a point. It was an unusual call that gave Tahir an advantage in the deuce. On the subsequent point, Tahir hit an acrobatic forehand winner down the line to seal the break and tie his match.
“He got a warning after a changeover in the second set,” Tahir said. “That was bizarre. That’s never happened to me before but obviously I’m glad it did happen. I’m not going to not take the point.“
The junior ended up winning the third set, defeating Schnur 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 to clinch the victory for the Blue Devils.
Tahir, normally a reserved player on the court, couldn’t hold back his happiness, throwing his racket halfway across the court in a celebration that should have been familiar to the Tar Heels as well.
“My freshman year when [North Carolina] won, the guy who clinched [the match] chucked his racket, so I guess that was an ode to him. He inspired me,” Tahir joked.
At fifth singles, Levine was locked in a tight match of his own. Despite being down 3-5 at one point during his third set and battling cramps, he was able to fight back to defeat Jack Murray 5-7, 6-0, 7-6.
The victory was a signature win for Duke, and they now find themselves in a great spot heading into postseason play, winners of eight straight matches.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the team,” Smith said. “It was one of the greatest matches I’ve ever been a part of.”