As the rest of the Blue Devils kicked off their season at the James Bronk Invitational Sept. 16, Nicolas Alvarez was representing his home country.
After reaching the NCAA singles championship last May, the Duke junior competed for Peru in the Davis Cup. Two weeks ago, Alvarez capped off his trip to the international team tournament by clinching the final point against Venezuela in his hometown of Lima.
“It’s a little different because I am playing in front of my family and representing my country,” Alvarez said. “I felt a little bit more nervous going into the match over there, but at the same time, the support of the crowd back home or here [at Duke] is very important."
Now the country's No. 15 player will begin his fall campaign at the ITA Men's All-American Championships at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center in Tulsa, Okla. Alvarez will participate in the main singles draw Oct. 5-6, with several other Duke players joining him.
Duke head coach Ramsey Smith hopes his best player will return to Durham with more confidence from the summer.
"It’s nice to see Nico [in] this first college tournament for the year,” Smith said. “But obviously a very special, unique opportunity for him to be able to play at the Davis Cup. It really helped his confidence a lot, and it’s going to help prepare him for the level of play at All-American and the rest of the fall.”
Two weeks ago, a Blue Devil squad without Alvarez, but consisting of seasoned returners and a stellar freshman group, capped off nine singles and four doubles victories at the Duke James Bonk Invitational.
In Tulsa, Smith’s squad will face more difficult competition against the best singles and doubles players in the country, including some familiar faces such as No. 6 Tom Fawcett from Stanford, who bested Alvarez 6-2, 6-3 in the first round of the NCAA singles championship last season.
The Blue Devils could also face members of some of the ACC's top programs such as Virginia and North Carolina. The Tar Heels spoiled Duke's Senior Day last year with a 6-1 victory before making their way to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals.
“A lot is depending on draws,” Smith said. “Especially in the prequalifying, because you can have a draw where you play kind of a medium-level opponent, or you can play one of the top guys in the country who just isn’t ranked yet.”
Alvarez hopes to carry over his experience at the Davis Cup into collegiate competition. As the youngest player on the Peruvian team, the All-American went 2-0 in singles against Mexico to help Peru claim a 4-1 victory in the Group II Americas semifinals.
Against Venezuela in the championship match, Alvarez again delivered two crucial points for his country. After downing ATP No. 686 Ricardo Rodriguez in straight sets 6-4, 6-2, 6-0, Alvarez topped No. 740 in the ATP Luis David Martinez in a comeback win 4-6, 6-4, 7-6, 6-1 to help Peru earn a 3-2 victory.
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“I didn’t play my best tennis in the Davis Cup," Alvarez said. "So, level-wise, it wasn’t a huge step forward, but being able to compete and win and not playing as great as I would like to was very important to me, and that should give me confidence moving forward to my next tournament.”
The first-team All-ACC honoree defines his game by his high-intensity baseline forehand, coupled with a versatile service and net game. But Alvarez's main weakness comes when equally powerful opponents relentlessly target his backhand.
Alongside Alvarez, sophomore Catalin Mateas is the only other Blue Devil whose name appeared on the preseason polls, ranked No. 100. Mateas took third place in his draw at the Duke James Bonk Invitational at No. 1 singles.
At the ITA Men's All-American Championships, Mateas will join freshman Robert Levine in the qualifying singles Oct. 3-4. Levine will also pair up with fellow freshman Nick Stachowiak to compete in the qualifying doubles during the same time.
Stachowiak will enter the prequalifying singles Saturday and Sunday with teammates TJ Pura, Ryan Dickerson and Spencer Furman.
“It’s a really cool event. It’s the biggest college tennis tournament in the world,” Smith said. “We are just looking for the guys to go out and execute what we’ve been practicing and focusing on—the program values and culture that we’ve been working on.”