CARY, N.C.—When the official waved his hands and declared the match suspended, neither player was happy.
Duke's Nicolas Alvarez and Notre Dame's Quentin Monaghan had gone back and forth for the better part of two hours on the top singles court, each breaking the other's serve on multiple occasions, racing all over the court to keep rallies alive.
But the referee's announcement meant that the match was over, and as the Fighting Irish senior turned away in frustration, an equally frustrated Alvarez called across the net: "Your team won."
Notre Dame bounced Duke from the ACC tournament Thursday, beating the Blue Devils 4-1 at the Cary Tennis Park. Alvarez's battle with Monaghan went for naught as the Fighting Irish clinched the match with singles victories on courts two, three and six.
Duke will miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in head coach Ramsey Smith's eight-year tenure, but Alvarez will likely receive an invite to the national singles competition.
"It’s an unusual situation for us—I’ve never been in this situation where we’re not in the team event," Smith said. "We’re just going to do everything we can to get Nico ready. The good news is he’s peaking at the right time, he’s playing his best tennis of the year and I think he’s got a real shot to go deep in the NCAA tournament."
The freshmen tandem of Vincent Lin and Catalin Mateas returned to the top doubles court after both dealing with injuries, playing together for the first time in nearly three weeks. The duo went toe-to-toe with Notre Dame's 12th-ranked pairing of Monaghan and Alex Lawson, as each side held serve for the first six games. The Blue Devils (11-15) avoided getting broken multiple times, but could not escape again in the eighth game, as Lin lunged for a ball that was too tall for him to reach, putting the Fighting Irish ahead 5-3.
Notre Dame (15-12) wasted little time closing out the match with a win in the next game, putting Duke in an early 1-0 hole after the Fighting Irish also claimed the doubles match on court three.
"On their first three service games they had break points down and they competed really well and battled really well," Smith said. "[They] had a couple looks on return game and just their team had one good break there and we couldn’t quite capitalize. Overall I was pretty happy with how they came out—they haven’t hit a ball together in a long time, and we just put them out there. When they’re both healthy and playing a lot, they’re a pretty good team."
On court two, Alvarez and junior T.J. Pura jumped out to an early 5-2 led on the 44th-ranked duo of Eddy Covalschi and Josh Hagar, but that advantage—like Alvarez's singles lead—was wiped away once the Fighting Irish had locked up the doubles point.
Mateas struggled mightily in his singles match against Hagar, quickly dropping the first five games en route to a 1-6 first-set loss. Playing with what appeared to be a brace on his forearm, the freshman had trouble getting his backhand returns over the net, and Hagar did not relent in the second set, blanking Mateas 6-0 to double the Notre Dame lead.
Smith said Mateas was still not fully 100 percent Thursday, pointing to the Braintree, Mass., native's straight-set victory against the Fighting Irish junior March 18 in South Bend, Ind.
Levine got Duke on the scoreboard with a dominant straight-set effort, besting Kenneth Sabacinski 6-2, 6-1 on court five. The senior broke his opponent early in both sets and never looked back, rounding out his Blue Devil career with 87 career singles victories.
Playing next to Levine on court three, Lin had his serve broken in the match's first game and immediately went down 0-2, but roared back from a 2-5 hole to force a tiebreak. Once in the tiebreak, though, Covalschi regained his footing and claimed the first set 7-6.
Lin continued to have trouble returning Covalschi's shots in the second set, often forced to lunge and hit high, arcing shots that either landed out of bounds or set up the Notre Dame junior to rifle winners back across the net. Covalschi jumped out to a 5-2 lead, then fired an ace past Lin to win 6-3 and put the Fighting Irish one more singles victory away from a Friday date with second-seeded Wake Forest.
The three remaining singles matches were all marathon affairs—Alvarez and Monaghan traded 6-2 victories in the first two sets on court one and Pura won a first-set tiebreaker against Lawson on court four before dropping the second stanza 2-6.
On court six, Notre Dame's Grayson Broadus blitzed McCall in the first set 6-1 and led comfortably in the second before the Duke senior mounted a comeback bid, getting into the tiebreak to keep his career alive. McCall outdueled Broadus to force a third set, but then Broadus rediscovered his first-set form, clinching the Notre Dame victory with a 6-2 win in the final set.
"He kind of had my number through most of the second set too—I was kind of getting crushed. I think he got a little bit tense toward the middle of the second set, and I did a good job capitalizing on some of the opportunities I had," McCall said. "I returned very well in the tiebreaker and that helped. I got a couple more first serves in, which allowed him to set up a few points and capitalize on some balls later on and put it all together for a little stretch there...but [in the] third set he came out and played really well again, so he was just too good."
Broadus' win halted No. 22 Alvarez's back-and-forth affair with No. 32 Monaghan with the Duke sophomore leading 4-0 in the final set. The Lima, Peru, native admitted to feeling pressure heading into the match—having lost his past two meetings with Monaghan—that contributed to his slow start, as Monaghan rattled off four straight games to win the first set 6-2.
But Alvarez collected himself between sets and immediately broke his opponent to get out to an early second-set lead.
"That mentality didn’t really help me going into the match, so in the second set I was a little bit looser—I’d already lost the first set, maybe there’s not that much to lose anymore—and started moving a lot better," Alvarez said. "My footwork was a lot better, and that helped me get more relaxed on the court."
Monaghan broke back to even the set at 1-1, but Alvarez won the next two games to control, then added an ace and another break on his way to a 6-2 win. The sophomore captain added two more breaks early in the third set before the match was abandoned.
After starting slowly in the regular-season finale against North Carolina, Alvarez said trying to get rid of the sluggish first sets will be one of his major focus areas as he readies for the postseason.
"It was a great, complete match from Nico, I’m disappointed for him that he didn’t get to finish it because he had things in control, up 4-0 in the third. I thought he really handled adversity extremely well," Smith said. "I feel like he broke Quentin down, which is really, really hard to do because that’s literally what Quentin’s game is—to rely on wearing the other person down."
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