Duke’s season came to an end Thursday when the Blue Devils’ remaining singles competitor and doubles team in the NCAA individual championship lost to lower-ranked opponents. The Hurd Tennis Center in Waco, Texas, was the stage and Nicolas Alvarez and Raphael Hemmeler were the tragic players.
No. 13 Alvarez took the court against Columbia’s Winston Lin, ranked 17th, a day after dispatching Drake's Alen Salibasic in straight sets. Just as he did Wednesday, the Lima, Peru, native jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first set, eventually winning 6-2, and was just three games away from winning the match in the second set. But Lin wrestled the would-be winning set away from Alvarez in a 6-4 decision. Lin then sped to a 4-0 lead in the third set and, after dropping the next two games to Alvarez, won the deciding set 6-4.
“Tennis is a pretty mental sport,” Duke assistant coach Jonathan Stokke said. “[Alvarez] did a really good job in the first half of the match, making a good decision every time.… Then the decisions just got a little bit worse and he played a good guy, and they kind of flip-flopped. Moving forward he has got to train his mind to be sharp and focused for three straight hours.”
After the conclusion of Alvarez’s match and a short one-hour rest period, the Duke freshman returned to action with senior Raphael Hemmeler to play in the first round of the NCAA doubles tournament. Ranked 20th in the country, the top Blue Devil duo faced off against the 29th-ranked team of Kyle Koch and Thiago Pinheiro from South Carolina.
Alvarez and Hemmeler fell behind 4-1 early in the first set and their Gamecock opponents did not look back, as they closed out the Blue Devil pair 6-2. In the second set, both teams stayed on serve and played to a 6-5 lead for South Carolina until Koch and Pinheiro broke Alvarez and Hemmeler to win the match.
“We got outplayed pretty handily,” Stokke said. “South Carolina came out well and our energy was not great. It was about as convincing a win for [Koch and Pinheiro] as you can get.”
With Thursday's loss, Hemmeler’s illustrious Duke career came to an end. The Zurich native put together four strong years in Durham, eclipsing the 100-win threshold in both singles and doubles victories.
But the Blue Devils have the 2015-16 season to look forward to, encouraged by the play of their freshman star.
“[Alvarez] played really well [this season] and he is kind of the future of the program,” Stokke said. “He is going to be one of our best players here for the next couple of years.… I was really excited about how he plays and how that projects for him contributing next year.”
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