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Duke men's tennis sweeps Michigan State in season-opener

No. 18 freshman Nicolas Alvarez captured a 6-3, 6-2 against No. 76 Gijs Linders to clinch the match for Duke.
No. 18 freshman Nicolas Alvarez captured a 6-3, 6-2 against No. 76 Gijs Linders to clinch the match for Duke.

Eight matches, eight wins and a long weekend to boot—what a way for Duke to kick off its season.

The Blue Devils clinched all seven points in a victory against Michigan State at Sheffield Indoor Tennis Stadium in Durham Friday. Although the level of competition was much higher than the score might suggest, Duke looked strong in its first matchup of the season.

“If you look at the scoreline, we won every match, but [Michigan St.] was in a bunch of them,” Blue Devil head coach Ramsey Smith said. “Our guys competed really well, and we won a lot of big points.”

Duke’s Chris Mengel and Bruno Semenzato won the first doubles match, as the 5-foot-9, 6-foot-3 combo stood equally tall in a 6-3 effort.

Moments later, Nicolas Alvarez and Raphael Hemmeler won on what was a microcosm of the match—an unstoppable “Nico" serve and after an unbalanced Spartan return, Hemmeler, who was playing net, slamming the ball home.

“It’s a privilege to play with that kind of player,” Alvarez said of Hemmeler. “The fact that his volleys are so good definitely gives me confidence with my serve.”

Blue Devils Jason Tahir and Josh Levine trailed 5-4, down a break, but the match was called.

“We have a lot of options in doubles,” Smith said. ”But we’ve been practicing with these teams so far this semester, and I’ve liked them.

With Duke out to a 1-0 lead, Blue Devil senior leader Jason Tahir opened up his match with blurring rockets. He slammed ace after ace and won the first set 6-2 against a Spartan with as much vocal flair as comeback capability.

Audibly firing himself up, Michigan State's John Patrick Mullane took a 3-1 lead in the second set, but Tahir ultimately proved too much, winning the second set 6-4.

Courts three and five featured mirror images during their first sets. Duke’s Semenzato and Mengel both broke Spartans almost simultaneously for 1-1, then fell in the next game. Mengel's 7-5, 6-4 win was the team’s second, and Semenzato won 6-2, 5-7, 1-0 (10-5) once Duke had already clinched.

The second court featured a star in the making. In his first career dual match, Alvarez began rocky with net-game and approach shot errors, but he quickly turned to dominant form, displaying grit and hustle even on the points that didn’t drop his way.

“His future is very bright,” Smith said. “At times I think he wasn’t feeling the ball as well as sometimes he does, but I thought he really raised his level in the big moments, in both sets.”

The gutsy Lima, Peru native broke his opponent to go up 3-2 in the first set, and ultimately won the match and sealed Duke’s victory with a 6-3, 6-2 performance.

With a roaring Duke home crowd cheering on, sixth-seed junior Josh Levine played a game full of breaks, and his scrappy effort won him a 7-5 first set comeback victory. He then took the second set 6-4 to clinch the set.

“We were with more rythym than we were two weeks ago,” Alvarez said in comparing the Michigan St. performance with the Hawaii Invitational Tournament. “Team chemistry right now is really good.”

The three deciding matches—seeds five, two and one—all finished within a two-minute span. It was only an added bonus, then, that Duke won its final matches to complete the sweep. The Blue Devils now looks forward to a matchup Monday against SEC power Kentucky.

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