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Doubles title for Pura, Lapidus highlights Wolfpack Invite for Duke men's tennis

<p>Senior TJ Pura teamed with sophomore Jason Lapidus to win the doubles draw at N.C. State last weekend.&nbsp;</p>

Senior TJ Pura teamed with sophomore Jason Lapidus to win the doubles draw at N.C. State last weekend. 

After a slew of wins at the USTA/ITA Carolina Regional, Duke returned to the court at N.C. State looking for more.

Led by a standout doubles performance, the Blue Devils had another strong weekend.

Four Duke players combined for several singles and doubles wins across various draws at the Wolfpack Invite Friday through Sunday. The Blue Devil tandem of senior TJ Pura and sophomore Jason Lapidus took home the doubles title in the Red Draw to highlight the event for Duke, which had several of its top players sit out following last week's regional.

Sophomore Ryan Dickerson and freshman Robert Levine advanced to the semifinals of their respective draws to build momentum as the fall season winds down.

“Overall we did a good job and it was a solid tournament for us,” Blue Devil head coach Ramsey Smith said. “The highlight was definitely the doubles from TJ and Jason, and the fact that they were able to win the top doubles draw and win pretty handily in the finals.”

Pura and Lapidus got off to a strong start with an 8-6 win against a duo from Elon before earning another 8-6 victory against ACC competition by topping N.C. State's Alexis Galarneau and Nick Horton to advance to Saturday's championship match.

The Duke duo then breezed to the title with a decisive 8-2 victory against Elon's Mario Paccini and Neal Port. The trio of wins represented a major bounce-back effort from Pura and Lapidus, who went 0-3 at the season-opening James Bonk Invitational in September.

“On paper they won handily, but they beat some very good teams and played great tennis,” Smith said. “The team chemistry was very good together. Their games complimented each other very well.... They were able to break through that first match, and they got better and better with each match and played their best when it mattered the most in the final.”

The Blue Devils' second doubles squad also fared well in the Red doubles draw.

Although they fell just short in an 8-6 loss to Paccini and Port in their first match, Dickerson and Levine managed to recover with an 8-3 victory against James Madison’s Sebastian Salinas and Damon Roberts to post a 1-1 doubles record for the weekend. 

After missing much of the 2015-16 season due to injury, Dickerson impressed in singles, opening play in the Red singles draw with a 6-1, 6-3 win against Elon's Felipe Osses-Konig. The Marlton, N.J., native then brought down N.C. State’s Igor Saveljic in two 6-4 sets, setting up a semifinal battle with Wolfpack star Horton, the 39th-ranked player in the country. 

Dickerson won the first set 6-2, but dropped the next two 4-6, 5-7 to allow Horton to advance and eventually win the draw. 

“[Ryan]'s a guy who dealt with a lot of injuries his freshman year and hasn't been able to play consistently, but this was a great tournament for him,” Smith said. “I'm really excited for what's to come for Ryan because this shows the level of tennis he is capable of playing.”

Levine also turned heads in singles on his way to the Red draw semifinals. 

The top seed, Levine dominated Campbell’s Fernando Clemente in a 6-1, 6-1 victory before dispatching Roberts of James Madison 6-4, 6-3 to advance to the semifinals. The Bedford, N.Y., native’s run was ultimately cut short by Galarneau 6-4, 6-3, bringing Levine’s fall singles record to 6-5.

Pura also started singles well with a straight-set win against Elon’s Salvador Mijares 6-4, 6-4. But the Blue Devils' only senior fell 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 to Horton in the quarterfinals, as N.C. State's top player wreaked havoc against Duke's lineup. 

The Blue Devils will send another small group of players to the Charlotte Invite this weekend—NCAA rules state that any events with more than four players count as official team events—before splitting up for the USTA/ITA National Indoor competition Nov. 3 and the Dick Vitale Clay Court Classic Nov. 4 to wrap up their fall slate. Duke will come together as a full team again for its annual Hawaii trip in January.

“We want to give guys opportunities, but we have to stay within the NCAA guidelines,” Smith said. “We actually only had three guys play singles, Jason Lapidus played doubles only and won all of his matches. Overall it was a successful weekend, and we're getting a little better each tournament. This will certainly give these guys a bit more confidence.”

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