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Underclassmen turn heads for Duke men's tennis in 2016-17 season opener

<p>The No. 100 player in the country, sophomore Catalin Mateas won his first three singles matches of the season this weekend.&nbsp;</p>

The No. 100 player in the country, sophomore Catalin Mateas won his first three singles matches of the season this weekend. 

With a mix of talented newcomers and skilled veterans, the Blue Devils showed they have a roster capable of returning to the NCAA tournament in their season opener.

Duke flashed its potential in the season-opening James Bonk Invite this weekend, racking up numerous victories during the course of the three-day tournament. Playing against both in-state rivals and talented nonconference opponents, the Blue Devils held their own, finishing with nine singles and four doubles victories across several singles and doubles draws. 

“We learned a lot about where everyone’s game is at this point," Duke head coach Ramsey Smith said. "For the freshmen it was the first time we got to watch them compete for Duke. The neatest thing about this tournament is that everyone gets seven matches: four singles and three doubles, so it’s a lot of opportunities for guys to implement things we’ve been working on."

Coming into the tournament, one of the big things to watch for the Blue Devils was the play of their highly-touted freshmen class. The doubles team of Robert Levine and Nick Stachowiak did not disappoint and closed out the consolation finals of the white draw Saturday with an 8-4 victory against Chad Kissell and Dave Bacalla of Valparaiso. The freshmen advanced to the match after following up a loss to North Carolina's Robert Kelly and Joshua Peck with a victory against Wake Forest's Maksim Kan and Sean Hill. 

Both Levine and Stachowiak also turned in solid performances on the singles courts. Despite a decisive defeat to Jordan Belga of Florida in the blue draw quarterfinals, Stachowiak finished with a pair of victories to finish in fifth place in his draw. After defeating Elon's Salvador Mijares 5-7, 6-2, 6-1, Stachowiak defeated Kan in straight sets. Levine also advanced to the blue draw quarterfinals, but fell in three sets to Peck Saturday. 

“[Nick] and Robert played some very good doubles,” Smith said “They were a little tense their very first match. They lost to a UNC team and there were definitely some nerves with their first ever college tennis match. But after that, they both played good singles and a lot of potential and upside from those two.”

With much of the attention on the team's newcomers, Duke's returners also turned in strong efforts. 

Coming into the season ranked No. 100, sophomore Catalin Mateas won his first three matches of the tournament. Mateas paired up with classmate Vincent Lin to bring home a pair of 8-5 victories to advance to the finals of the blue men's doubles draw, where the team eventually fell 8-7 to the Northern Florida tandem of Jack Findel-Hawkins and Jonathan Deautriell.

Mateas also brought home a pair of straight-set singles victories before he was ousted by Elon's Felipe Sarrasague in the semifinals. The sophomore responded with a resounding 6-1, 7-6 (4) victory against Florida's Joshua Wardell in the third place match Sunday. 

Lin snagged the consolation third place title of the white draw with a hard-won 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 match against N.C. State's Georgiy Malyshev, and senior TJ Pura advanced to the blue draw semifinals, before falling to Belga. Despite winning just one game in a straight-set defeat to Auburn's Brandon Laubser, Pura still managed to finish the weekend with a 2-2 singles record. 

Sophomore Jason Lapidus was unable to bring home a victory on the singles court, falling to Virginia Commonwealth's Javier Amantegui and Florida's David Sarkissov 6-3, 6-3 and 7-5, 6-3, respectively. The Durham native did not find much success on the doubles court either, losing all three of his matches with Pura. 

Junior Andrew Dejoy was also on the wrong side of the ledger and dropped his first two singles matches in straight sets. After a narrow three-set win against Radford's Carlos Sala, Dejoy was unable to get on the scoreboard against Florida's Stephen Madonia in a 6-0, 6-0 defeat.

“We certainly have a lot of things to work on as a team, but I like where we are right now and we’re making progress,” Smith said.

Although this tournament served as an early indicator for the young Blue Devil squad, the team should only improve with the services of junior Nicolas Alvarez and freshman Spencer Furman. Alvarez spent the weekend competing for Peru in the Davis Cup, and Furman was out due to injury. 

A few select Duke players will next take the court Oct. 1 for the ITA All-American in Tulsa, Okla. 

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