After being upset in the consolation round of 32 in the ITA All-American Championships two weeks ago, junior Nicolas Alvarez looked to make a much deeper run in this week's USTA/ITA Carolina Regional.
Alvarez did just that and helped the Blue Devils turn in a strong team performance in their second tournament of the year.
Several Duke players competed from Friday to Monday at the ITA Carolina Regional in Cary, N.C., where they faced opponents from various schools around North and South Carolina. The Blue Devils had semifinalists in both the singles and doubles draws, but could not get a player into a championship game.
"We were very close to having some real breakthroughs," Duke head coach Ramsey Smith said. "We could have played a little bit better on the deuce points and in some of the pressure situations."
Alvarez advanced to the semifinals of the men's singles draw before falling to tournament No. 1 seed Skander Mansouri of Wake Forest in straight sets. The Lima, Peru, native also found himself in the semifinals of the doubles tournament with freshman partner Nick Stachowiak, but fell to the Demon Deacons duo of Mansouri and redshirt junior Christian Seraphin 6-4, 7-6 (2).
The doubles team of Jason Lapidus and Vincent Lin also advanced to the semifinals, but fell to North Carolina's Robert Kelly and Josh Peck 7-5, 6-2. The sophomore tandem responded well after being pushed to the brink of elimination in their very first match, where they ousted Wake Forest's Sean Hill and Charles Perry in a marathon 3-6, 6-2, 1-0 (11) first-round battle. Lapidus and Lin were pushed to a final set once again in the quarterfinals but came away with a 7-6 (4), 6-7 (6), 1-0 (5) victory.
But the biggest story of the tournament remained Alvarez.
After entering the season ranked No. 14, the junior had trouble adjusting to the hardcourt surface at the ITA All-American and suffered a pair of upset losses. Alvarez had little trouble this time around as he dropped just one set in his first four matches and rolled into the semifinals before his loss to Mansouri. Although Alvarez did not find himself in a championship game this week, the junior's return to form was exciting to see for a young Blue Devil team.
"There were a couple things he didn't do that great at All-Americans, but he really turned things around, focused and made some big improvements," Smith said.
Sophomore Catalin Mateas was the only other Duke player to reach the Round of 16 in singles but fell victim to a late rally by Tar Heel Bo Boyden in a 6-2, 6-7 (4), 3-6 defeat. Lin and Stachowiak both made runs to the third round of the singles draw but could not get past No. 15 seed Adam Steryous of Furman and second-seeded Ronnie Schneider of North Carolina, respectively. Robert Levine, T.J. Pura and Ryan Dickerson all also recorded first-round singles victories.
The Blue Devils will have a chance to continue working out the kinks and continue improving when they next hit the courts Friday in Raleigh for the Wolfpack Invite.
Although Duke can only send four players to the tournament, Smith anticipates everyone on the team will play at least once in the three remaining fall tournaments. The Blue Devils will send Dickerson, Levine, Pura and freshman Spencer Furman to this weekend's tournament.
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
After suffering a tough first-round loss together at the ITA Carolina Regional, Furman and Pura will have the opportunity to get back on the court and look for more consistency individually and as a duo.
"They played a good match against a seeded team first round," Smith said. "They had very good energy together."
Dickerson and Levine will play as a doubles pair for the first time this season, giving Smith an opportunity to evaluate a new combination of his players. With the Wolfpack Invite marking only the third tournament of the year, the Blue Devils know they must continue to make strides any time they get on the court.
"We're definitely on the right track, but we certainly have a long way to go to get where we want to be," Smith said. "It's just about fine tuning a couple things and continuing to focus on the process."