The Blue Devils held a commanding 3-0 lead Friday afternoon, but soon found themselves on the wrong side of yet another close decision.
Clemson stormed back with four straight singles victories to snatch a 4-3 win from Duke at Ambler Tennis Stadium. Daniel McCall’s final two sets had to be decided by tiebreakers, but the senior could not come away with either one, leaving the Blue Devils with their third straight loss and fourth 4-3 loss on the year.
“It was a tight match. It was a great college tennis match,” Duke head coach Ramsey Smith said. “It was really exciting—I really enjoyed it until the very last point.”
Duke built its 3-0 lead after claiming the doubles point and adding singles wins on courts one and four. On court two, McCall and freshman Jason Lapidus soundly defeated Clemson’s Alex Favrot and Daffra Sanon 6-1, helping the duo bounce back from two straight losses. Senior Josh Levine battled to a 6-4 win with teammate Catalin Mateas—returning to the lineup after missing last weekend's match at then-No. 6 Wake Forest—on court three, the first time they have played doubles together this season.
“Doubles was really good,” Smith said. “It all started with our two team—Jason and Dan—they were just shot out of a cannon, they played awesome tennis, really good energy, played with a lot of passion.”
Levine carried the momentum from his doubles victory straight into singles, routing Austin Ansari 6-1, 6-2 in his most decisive victory this month. Not long after, No. 22 Nicolas Alvarez finished another dominant win for the Blue Devils, downing Favrot, 6-2, 6-2. Smith said the sophomore’s performance was a continuation of his top-15 win against the Demon Deacons April 9 as he continues to build momentum toward the postseason.
The three-point advantage was not enough, though, as Sanon soundly defeat T.J. Pura on court three, 6-1, 6-4, to give Clemson its first team point. Pura could not match Sanon’s speed—the Paris native chased down every ball en route to six straight game wins that gave him the first set and a 2-0 advantage in the second. The Blue Devil junior did his best to make up lost points in the second set, but the effort fell short. Pura has now lost six of his last seven matches and has yet to register a win on court three this year.
Lapidus saw his first singles action of the season on court six, where he battled to a 5-7 loss in the first set before losing steam and falling 6-2 in the second. The Tigers had swung momentum back in their favor, closing the Duke lead at 3-2 and leaving the match to be decided on courts two and five.
“We played the guys that were available, and Jason did a pretty good job down there,” Smith said. “It was his first singles match of the spring, so obviously a difficult situation for him to be in, but I thought he handled it well.”
On court two, Mateas looked ready to match Alvarez’s pace, as both players gained a 3-0 advantage early in singles. But Tiger Luke Johnson quickly registered a break of his own and held serve twice, evening the match at 3-3. The contest stayed locked from that point on, but Johnson broke away from a 5-5 tie to take the first set, 7-5.
Mateas and Johnson stayed even again in the second set, going game-for-game until the score was once again locked at 5-5. Clemson’s Robert Dudley closed in against McCall in the second set on court six, putting pressure on Mateas to force a third set and give the Blue Devils an added sense of security by extending the match. But Johnson managed a break in the 23rd game of the match to go ahead 6-5, then held serve to capture the victory and even the match at 3-3.
McCall was one of three Duke players to claim the first set—beating Dudley 6-2—but found himself last on the courts battling in a second-set tiebreaker. Dudley made a stand in the second frame, getting ahead a break only to have McCall fight back to a 5-4 advantage. Locked at 6-6, the two decided the second frame by a tiebreaker, which Dudley dominated, 7-3.
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Bolstered by Johnson's win on court two, Dudley raced ahead to a 3-0 lead in the deciding frame. McCall responded with three straight games of his own, pumping himself up by calling to his teammates who stood on the adjacent court to cheer him on. Dudley—who had been having trouble with his first serve during McCall’s winning stretch—found his rhythm and held serve, as did McCall until the match was even at six games apiece.
“[It was] pretty cool to see it come down to a senior, court five, playing out a whole third set for the win,” Smith said. “I thought Dan did a great job.”
The second tiebreak of the match began, and the two players traded initial points before Dudley won four of the next five to take a 5-2 advantage. Refusing to give up, McCall rallied for three points of his own to tie the score 5-5. On McCall’s next service point, a backhand down-the-line attempt popped up on the net, giving Dudley an easy opportunity to crush the ball for a winner. On the following point, Dudley’s well-placed serve caught McCall off guard and he mishit the ball, giving Dudley the 2-6, 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-5) win by the narrowest of margins.
“He was down 3-0—the other guy was playing really well—he hung in there,” Smith said. “Our guys supported him really well, and it was just one of those things where a point or difference and we’re feeling amazing, and it just didn’t happen.”
The Blue Devils have won just once this season by a 4-3 score—a Feb. 5 win against Tennessee. Duke has one more chance in the regular season to see if it can close out a tight match when No. 5 North Carolina visits Durham Sunday at 1 p.m. for Senior Day.