Two years ago, the Blue Devils fought their way to a 5-2 upset of North Carolina on Senior Day to secure the second seed in the ACC tournament and end Fred Saba’s home career on a high note.
The Tar Heels made sure there would be no such magic this time around.
No. 5 North Carolina swiftly took down Duke 6-1 Sunday at Ambler Tennis Stadium, spoiling Senior Day for Josh Levine and Daniel McCall. The Blue Devils dropped the first five singles matches after conceding the doubles point, and head into the postseason having lost four in a row, including three to teams ranked in the top seven in the country. Sunday’s win was the Tar Heels’ fourth straight against Duke, a streak dating back to the 2014 ACC tournament semifinals.
“We were just trying to finish strong,” Duke head coach Ramsey Smith said. “Obviously we didn’t do that. UNC is a great team, and they beat up on us today. There’s really not much else to say. They’re having a great season, and they’re doing a great job. We need to flush this down the toilet.”
The Tar Heels (24-3, 9-3 in the ACC) dominated wire to wire, beginning with doubles. Anudeep Kodali and Ronnie Schneider crushed the Duke duo of Levine and freshman Catalin Mateas on court three, winning 6-1. McCall and freshman Jason Lapidus put up a better showing against North Carolina’s No. 29-ranked team of Jack Murray and Brayden Schnur on court two but still fell 3-6.
Sophomore Nicolas Alvarez and junior T.J. Pura held serve with the No. 2-ranked team of Brett Clark and Robert Kelly on court one, but that match was stopped when the Tar Heels clinched the doubles point with the North Carolina duo leading 4-3.
Singles was a lopsided affair on courts three through six, but the matches on the two top courts were tight contests. Alvarez, ranked No. 22 in the country, lost the first three games of his match to No. 29 Schnur but rebounded to win Duke’s only match of the day to stave off the sweep.
“He’s come along lately the last couple matches. Overall it’s been a tough season for him, but he’s playing his best tennis [now],” Smith said. “[I’m] really glad to see him keep his composure and beat a heck of a player in Schnur. That guy is one of the best guys in college the last couple years. [The win] should give Nico a lot of confidence.”
After Alvarez won six of the last seven games of the first set, he and Schnur went back and forth in the second. Down 5-6, Alvarez held serve to force a tiebreak. He earned his first match point at 6-5 in the tiebreak, but Schnur defended his serve.
Alvarez then won the next point before converting on his second match point, this one on his own serve. That match was the last to finish on the afternoon as the Lima, Peru, native helped his team avoid being swept for the second time this season. The Blue Devils (11-14, 4-8) previously lost 7-0 Feb. 7 at Michigan.
“I’m pleased with the way I played, the way I competed,” Alvarez said. “I had lost to Schnur last year, so it’s definitely encouraging to beat him this year, and it also gives me confidence going into the ACC tournament.”
Pura battled No. 28 Schneider on court two and put a scare into his Tar Heel rival after falling behind early. Despite losing the first three games of the match, Pura got back on serve before dropping the first set, 4-6. Schneider led 5-1 in the second and was serving for the match when Pura got one break back. He then held serve to pull back to within two games, tossing his racket and screaming as he pumped himself up. But Schneider refused to surrender a point in the final game and pulled out the 6-4, 6-3 triumph.
“Ronnie [Schneider] is super tough,” Smith said. “They’ve had some battles in the past. It was weird—it was a really close match, closer than the score. It was one of those things where he couldn’t quite break through on some of the bigger points. Like he always does, he competed great, gave himself a chance there and it was fun to see him fighting like he always does.”
Duke failed to win a set or offer much of a challenge on any of the other courts. The four Blue Devils combined to win just one game in the second set of their other matches as Levine lost to No. 47 Clark 6-1, 6-0 and Kelly defeated McCall 6-1, 6-1. Murray won 6-3, 6-0 against Lapidus, and Duke sophomore Andrew DeJoy—playing his first ACC match of the season—was on the wrong end of a 6-2, 6-0 decision against North Carolina’s Blaine Boyden.
Mateas—Duke’s usual No. 2 singles player—did not play singles Sunday after falling in doubles. The freshman was held out of last weekend’s loss at then-No. 6 Wake Forest with a lingering injury but returned to the court Friday against Clemson, where he lost in straight sets.
The Blue Devils will return to the court in Cary, N.C., Thursday as they open ACC tournament action as the No. 10 seed against seventh-seeded Notre Dame at 1 p.m. Duke will be the underdog in that match, but Smith wants his players to focus on themselves.
“All we can do is do everything we can in our power to prepare ourselves as a team and each guy individually to be ready to go Thursday,” Smith said. “We need to focus on us. We need to get better with us.”