With their best player still out with a wrist injury, the Blue Devils are getting used to playing through early-season adversity.
So even when Virginia Commonwealth started pushing Duke in doubles and early in several of the singles matches, the Blue Devils put their foot on the gas to put away a second straight 6-1 win.
No. 25 Duke dominated Michigan State Friday night at home before pushing past the Rams Saturday night at Sheffield Tennis Center. Junior Nicolas Alvarez is still out for the Blue Devils, but coming off a loss at then-No. 15 Kentucky, Duke was able to get back on track on its home court.
The Blue Devils won the doubles point in both matches—only dropping one doubles match during the weekend Saturday night—and four Duke players won both of their singles matches.
“We definitely made some improvements from Kentucky and I think we’ve handled Nico not being in the lineup well,” Blue Devil head coach Ramsey Smith said. “Obviously, I’d rather have him in there, but there are some positives because it gives other guys opportunities. Everyone is playing at a higher spot, and it’s only going to make us stronger.”
Duke (3-1) wasted no time getting in front against the Spartans Friday, with freshman Robert Levine and sophomore Jason Lapidus dominating Brett Forman and Alexander Kim 6-2 on Court 3 and the sophomore tandem of Catalin Mateas and Vincent Lin cruising past Colin Harvey and Michael Dube 6-3 at No. 1 doubles to clinch the doubles point.
Both victorious tandems capitalized on early breaks, and the freshman duo of Spencer Furman and Nick Stachowiak eventually pulled out a 6-5 (8-6) victory facing Dough Francken and Billy Shisler to complete the doubles sweep.
On Saturday, Furman and Stachowiak were the only doubles team to enjoy a rout, breaking a 1-1 tie by reeling off five straight games against Louis Ishizaka and Arvid Noren to improve to 9-0 this season. Things were not as straightforward for Mateas and Lin on Court 1 against Vitor Lima and Philip Mobious, as the Blue Devil tandem fell behind 4-2.
But the duo rallied behind better returning, reeling off four games in a row to seal another doubles point for their team. Levine and Lapidus went back and forth with VCU’s Marten Jonsson and Javier Amantegui, eventually falling 7-5.
“Doubles came down to the wire being down a break late on courts one and three,” Smith said. “We did a great job battling back on court one and that gave us some momentum.”
After sweeping the doubles matches against Michigan State (2-2) Friday, Smith’s team won five singles matches in straight sets to put away the Spartans. The only Blue Devil to fall was Mateas at No. 1 singles, as the Duke sophomore dropped a tough 7-5, 7-6 (7-3) decision to Forman.
But as was the case in doubles, VCU (4-1) made it clear that it would put up more of a fight in singles Saturday, taking early leads on several courts and making the favored Blue Devils work in long rallies.
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Stachowiak and senior TJ Pura quickly found a rhythm, however, putting Duke up 3-0 with straight-set wins in quick succession.
The only player to win a singles match at Kentucky, Stachowiak fell behind Ishizaka 2-0 at No. 4 singles. The Cary, N.C., native responded to the early adversity well, ripping off six games in a row to take the first set, then using a four-game spurt after falling behind 1-0 in the second set to put himself firmly in control. For the third straight match, Stachowiak won 6-2, 6-2.
Pura had by far the most energy of any player in singles on Court 6, breaking early in the first set to take a lead then never looking back. He won the first set 6-3, then like Stachowiak cruised in the second set, eventually putting away Mobius 6-1 a minute after his teammate’s singles win.
As he did Friday, Furman delivered the match-clinching point on Court 4 against the Rams, battling past Amantegui 6-4, 6-2. Although the Duke rookie built a 4-1 lead in the first set, Amantegui clawed his way back into the frame, pulling within 5-4. Some clutch serving got Furman out of the set, then he overcame a 2-0 deficit in the second frame by going on a 6-0 spurt.
“It’s such an honor to play out next to those guys. I had a slow start today, but I found my rhythm after a couple of games in the second set, which was really important to get the win,” Furman said. “I feel like the serve really helped me, especially in the second sets of both of my matches.”
Mateas got bumped down to No. 2 singles Saturday, and responded with a hard-fought 7-5, 6-2 win against Jonsson. The pair battled through an even first set before Mateas pulled away late and snapped a two-match losing streak by winning the match’s final four games to make the overall score 5-0.
His classmate Lin switched to No. 1 singles for the first time in his career, and had an up-and-down encounter with Lima. Lima looked like he could get VCU on the board after dominating the first set 6-2, but Lin started the second set strong, building a 3-0 lead on his way to a 6-1 set victory to even the match.
The Schaumburg, Ill., native looked to be in trouble again when he fell behind 4-0 to start the final set. But like many of his teammates during the weekend, Lin found another gear with many of the Blue Devils encouraging him after their matches ended, winning six straight games to pull out a 2-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory.
“With Vinny’s first match at No. 1, he played a very tough opponent,” Smith said. “I’m really proud of how he competed and battled back. I think that’s a big, big win for his confidence.”
Levine was the only player to fall Saturday, dropping a 7-6 (7-1), 4-6, 1-0 (10-7) decision to Inaki Rivero Crespo. With the overall outcome already decided, the tandem played a first-to-10 tiebreaker instead of a typical third set, and the two competitors were pretty evenly matched until the very end, with Crespo eventually capitalizing on a few wayward shots from Levine.
But after each Blue Devil showed improvement serving and playing aggressively this weekend, Duke will travel to face No. 17 Illinois and Northwestern on the road next week with a bit more confidence—whether or not Alvarez is in the lineup.
“We just need to get that little better serving,” Smith said. “These top teams, most of the guys are big servers. We have some good servers, but I think our strength is more from the ground and on the returning side.”