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Key ACC stretch for Duke men's tennis continues with N.C. State, No. 3 Virginia

<p>Sophomore&nbsp;Nicolas Alvarez leads Duke into two critical ACC matches this weekend.</p>

Sophomore Nicolas Alvarez leads Duke into two critical ACC matches this weekend.

After winning two consecutive matches for the first time in a month Sunday, the Blue Devils will look to continue climbing in the ACC standings.

Duke aims to stay hot this weekend with a Friday road match against N.C. State at the Dail Outdoor Tennis Center in Raleigh at 4:30 p.m. and a 3 p.m. Sunday home bout with No. 3 Virginia at Ambler Tennis Stadium. With just five matches remaining in the regular season, the Blue Devils—currently tied for ninth in the conference—need as many wins as possible to improve their ACC tournament seeding.

To continue its recent success against two teams who are also hot—N.C. State has won three matches in a row and Virginia eight—Duke will have to start fast against the Wolfpack and Cavaliers. Sunday against Louisville and N.C. Central, the Blue Devils captured the doubles point in each contest after head coach Ramsey Smith made some adjustments to the team’s doubles lineups from Friday’s loss to Virginia tech. Duke continued the momentum in singles, winning the matches 5-2 and 6-1, respectively.

“[Sunday], we played better in doubles,” Smith said. “We had a different team though, so we will most likely continue with those doubles pairings, but we have some other options as well. We really just want to keep the momentum—we have won two doubles points, did some better things and hopefully we can continue that this weekend.”

Against the Cardinals Sunday, the Blue Devils (10-10, 3-4 in the ACC) started freshmen Catalin Mateas and Vincent Lin on court one, senior Daniel McCall and freshman Jason Lapidus on court two and sophomore Nicolas Alvarez and junior T.J. Pura on court three. Alvarez teamed with freshman Ryan Dickerson against the Hokies on court one Friday, then got a respite against the Eagles because N.C. Central was only able to field two doubles teams.

To get comfortable for Friday’s match against the Wolfpack (15-10, 3-4) in Raleigh, Duke will practice at Dail Outdoor Tennis Stadium Thursday, Smith said.

“[In practice], we’re just fine-tuning a couple of things,” Smith said. “We’ve been doing a lot of doubles and really just getting ready for Friday.”

N.C. State features three ranked players that headline its singles lineup—No. 44 Simon Norenius, No. 77 Nick Horton and No. 85 Thomas Weigel—but has also shown depth of late. In the Wolfpack’s last match against Clemson Saturday, N.C. State prevailed 4-3 even though its leading trio went a combined 1-2. 

The Blue Devils’ only ranked singles player, No. 19 Alvarez, will look to set the tone for Duke in singles as the teams battle to get back to .500 in ACC play.

After the Blue Devils take on the Wolfpack, they will have a day to recover before returning to the courts in Durham to host the Cavaliers (16-2, 6-0) Sunday. Virginia captured its second national championship in four years last May and returns five of the six singles players who helped the Cavaliers hoist the trophy in Waco, Texas.

Virginia’s lineup features five ranked singles players—including No. 7 Thai-Son Kwiatkowski and No. 8 Ryan Shane—as well as two ranked doubles teams. The pairings of Shane and junior Luca Corinteli and Kwiatkowski and senior Mac Styslinger are ranked second and eighth in the country, respectively.

The Cavaliers take on top-ranked North Carolina in Chapel Hill Friday afternoon, and will also have one day to recover ahead of Sunday’s tilt with Duke.

Smith emphasized that the Blue Devils will focus on N.C. State before turning their attention to the defending national champions.

“On Saturday, we will focus on Virginia,” Smith said. “But we cannot get ahead of ourselves. Every single one of these ACC matches is a big deal—it’s really important—and N.C. State is playing really good tennis, so first we need to be ready to play them at a tough environment at their place.”

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