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Blue Devil men's tennis ready for top-10 bout with Wake Forest

<p>Freshman Catalin Mateas will face the highest-ranked opponent of his young career when Duke takes on No. 6 Wake Forest Saturday.</p>

Freshman Catalin Mateas will face the highest-ranked opponent of his young career when Duke takes on No. 6 Wake Forest Saturday.

The season may be winding down for the Blue Devils, but the competition is heating up.

Duke faces No. 6 Wake Forest Saturday at Leighton Tennis Stadium in Winston-Salem at 3:30 p.m. in the second of two straight top-10 contests, with No. 1 North Carolina just around the corner April 17. The last time out, the Blue Devils found themselves on the wrong side of four three-set singles matches in their 6-1 loss to No. 3 Virginia.

Duke started strong in singles play after dropping the doubles point when senior Josh Levine defeated No. 88 JC Aragone 6-4, 7-6 (7-3), to even the day’s score at one. But the Cavaliers fought their way to victory on all of the remaining singles courts to claim the day.

“The Virginia match did give us a lot of confidence, even though we lost 6-1,” Duke head coach Ramsey Smith said. “It definitely gave all of our guys a belief, knowing that we can play with anybody.That’s really the first step, and now the second step is closing and finishing those matches and those sets off.”

The Demon Deacons (24-4, 8-1 in the ACC) have dominated all season and finished the month of March having conceded just six total points to their opponents. Wake Forest enters Saturday fresh off an upset win against the top-ranked Tar Heels April 3, bouncing back from a 3-1 deficit to notch the 4-3 victory.

No. 13 Skander Mansouri and No. 24 Petros Chrysochos lead the lineup for the Demon Deacons. Chrysochos enters Saturday riding a nine-match win streak, and Mansouri lost his first conference matchup of the season against North Carolina’s then-No. 46 Brayden Schnur. 

Mansouri will likely face No. 26 Nicolas Alvarez on court one, while Chrysochos takes on fellow freshman Catalin Mateas on court two. Mateas will face the highest-ranked opponent of his career Saturday in Chrysochos, having battled to a 7-6, 6-4 win against then-No. 41 Aron Hiltzik of Illinois Jan. 29.

Court three will likely pit Duke's Vincent Lin against Jon Ho. Lin will hope to break a two-match losing streak in the contest, dropping three tiebreakers in the two losses. At the end of the lineup, Wake Forest’s four, five and six players have shifted around in the lineup throughout the season, but have all racked up double-digit wins—a testament to the team’s considerable depth.

“Wake’s really good, they just beat UNC—the number one team in the country—at UNC, and they’re just really good top to bottom,” Smith said. “They’re extremely deep—their seven, eight, nine guys are very good—they have a very good team, but I just think it’s a great challenge for us, and we’re looking forward to it.”

By the end of next weekend, Duke (11-11, 4-5) will have faced three top-10 opponents in four matches, but Saturday’s contest provides a bit of relief as the only competition of the weekend. The Blue Devils have played two matches per weekend—Friday and Sunday—since ACC play began March 6.

“[Only playing Saturday] just gives us a little bit more time—it gives us a longer practice week,” Smith said. “We’ve had two matches a week for awhile, so the guys get a little bit healthier and we get to work on a couple more things at practice, and it’s also nice just to know that we can go all out for one match, and we don’t have to worry about the second half of the week.”

After the Wake Forest contest, Duke returns to a two-match weekend to welcome Clemson Friday and North Carolina Sunday in the squad’s final regular-season matches. The Blue Devils went 2-5 to open the conference season but have recently hit their stride, winning three of their last four contests by a margin of at least three points.

“We’re playing a lot better than we did a couple weeks ago—our team’s in a better place than it was a couple weeks ago—and we’re just looking to finish strong,” Smith said. “That’s kind of been our goal from the very beginning, to maximize our potential by the end of the year and play our best tennis at the end of the year.” 

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