After spending a week in Hawaii, the Blue Devils returned to Durham to open the spring season against Elon.
Despite losing the doubles point, Duke recovered to start 2017 on the right foot.
Following losses in two of three doubles matches, the Blue Devils came back to win six all singles matches Monday against Elon for a decisive 6-1 victory at the Sheffield Tennis Center in Duke’s first home match of the year. The Blue Devils were without junior star Nicolas Alvarez—who missed the match with an undisclosed injury—but got strong play from freshmen Nick Stachowiak and Spencer Furman to knock off the Phoenix.
“We didn’t play our best, but we didn’t play horrible,” Duke head coach Ramsay Smith said. “They played well. We just didn’t execute in a couple areas. Instead of hanging our heads, the guys did a really good job of refocusing and putting the doubles behind them. [They] got off to really good starts in the singles and were able to carry that through.”
Stachowiak and Furma were the Blue Devils’ lone bright spot in doubles, notching a 6-4 victory against Elon’s Taylor Foote and Peter Tomic. Duke’s freshman duo commanded the early stages of the match, taking a fast 3-1 lead and sealing the win on a Stachowiak ace. The freshman tandem improved to 6-0 on the year in doubles.
But while the duo was pulling away in No. 2 doubles, sophomores Vincent Lin and Catalin Mateas were playing from behind. Elon’s Felipe Sarrasague and Marico Paccini broke a 2-2 tie by reeling off three straight games, eventually holding off the Blue Devils’ comeback for a 6-4 win. On Court 3, senior TJ Pura and sophomore Jason Lapidus also dug themselves an early hole.
Pura and Lapidus fell behind 2-0 before tying the match at 2-2 and holding serve opposite Elon’s Neal Port and Salvador Mijares to force a tiebreaker. The Phoenix duo continued delivering with the doubles point on the line, going up 4-1 and eventually winning the matchup 7-6 (7-3) to take an early advantage.
Despite the poor start, Duke’s confidence did not waver.
“We were all super positive going into singles because we are super confident as a team in our singles,” Mateas said. “We knew they were going to be great players in doubles and everyone knew they were going to have to fight…. It was all about mentality.”
Lin came off the court early after making quick work of Tomic to even the team score on Court 3. The Schaumburg, Ill., native commanded the first set to a 6-1 victory. From there, he broke a 2-2 tie by winning four of five games for a routine 6-1, 6-3 victory.
The Blue Devils then quickly took the lead when Furman knocked off Mijares in No. 4 singles 6-3, 6-1 by winning eight straight games at one point to improve to 7-1 this season.
Duke continued rolling with a 6-3, 6-2 win by Pura against Port on Court 6. Like Furman, Pura used a streak of seven straight games to break open a match that was tight early on.
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With Alvarez out, Mateas was pushed into the No. 1 singles spot, but the Braintree, Mass., looked very comfortable in a 6-2 6-4 win against Sarrasague. Mateas trailed 2-1 early in the second set before finding his footing to bring the team score to 4-1.
The match was already decided at that point, but Stachowiak took out Felipe Osses-Konig 6-4, 7-6 (5) and fellow freshman Robert Levine pulled out a 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 win against Paccini to score the last two points of the day.
Smith’s team attributed their singles rhythm to their annual Hawaii winter break trip, in which they took on Hawaii, Ole Miss and LSU to prepare for the season and had several opportunities to bond as a team as well.
“[The trip] was awesome,” Mataes said. “Because we played those matches, [Elon] didn’t feel like a very first match, which was great for everyone.”
The Blue Devils, who were just outside the top 25 in 2017’s first rankings, will next hit the road to take on No. 15 Kentucky Friday in what should be a big test for Smith’s young team.
Meredith Cash contributed reporting.