Coming off back-to-back road losses against top-20 opponents, the Blue Devils had a full week to prepare for a Sunday home doubleheader.
That practice time showed in a big way in two relatively stress-free sweeps.
Still without No. 12 Nicolas Alvarez, Duke routed Tennessee 4-0 Sunday afternoon at Sheffield Tennis Center before returning to the court a few hours later and dominating N.C. Central 7-0 in less than an hour and 40 minutes in the evening. Blue Devil head coach Ramsey Smith elected to leave sophomore Vincent Lin, who has frequently played on one of the top singles courts this year, out of the lineup, but Duke's freshman trio of Nick Stachowiak, Robert Levine and Spencer Furman stepped up in the team's first sweeps of the year.
Senior TJ Pura and sophomore Ryan Dickerson also had standout outings in the Blue Devils' sharpest performances of the season.
"Anytime you have a doubleheader, it's important not to look ahead. I felt like we had a really good week of preparation," Smith said. "It was a great, great team effort. We started off well in doubles. Tennessee always has very good doubles, so I knew that was probably going to be our toughest point. We came out with a lot of energy and a lot of aggressiveness. That was huge for us getting that first point of the match."
To Smith's point, Duke (5-3) started a busy day by taking the doubles point against a Volunteer squad with two top-30 doubles teams even though the Blue Devils have no nationally-ranked pairs.
At No. 2 doubles, sophomore Catalin Mateas and Levine overcame an early 2-1 hole by ripping off four games in a row and besting 29th-ranked Timo Stodder and Scott Jones 6-3.
The sophomore tandem of Dickerson and Jason Lapidus then turned an early break into a 6-4 win on Court 3 to give the home team the doubles point in their first match playing together this season.
"Those guys were just a bundle of energy and they set the tone for the entire dual match and played very aggressive," Smith said. "Jason hasn't been in the lineup for the past few weeks and worked hard to get himself back in and played probably his best match for sure today."
The top doubles match between Stachowiak and Furman and No. 24 Jack Schipanski and Luis Valero was left unfinished with the Tennessee tandem on top 5-4.
In singles, Furman routed Srdjan Jakovljevic 6-2, 6-1 at the No. 4 spot to make the score 2-0 Duke, then two of his teammates also posted quick straight-sets victories to seal the win.
Stachowiak extended his winning streak to 10, playing for the first time on Court 2 with Lin and Alvarez out. The Cary, N.C., native fell behind Valero 2-0, then soared past his opponent 6-3, 6-3. Stachowiak also came through with wins at No. 17 Illinois and No. 9 Northwestern last week to move up to No. 116 in the most recent singles rankings.
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"I definitely started off a little nervous in this one playing on Court 2," Stachowiak said. "After that slow start, I pumped myself up a little bit, held to get back within one game and from there got the momentum and it was all over."
In his first singles match in the young dual season, Dickerson, who has been battling a shoulder injury, bested Luca Wiedenmann 6-2, 6-3 at No. 6 singles. The sophomore was in control from the start of the matchup, building off the momentum he built with Lapidus in doubles.
When Dickerson clinched the fourth point of the match, the other singles courts stopped play with the outcome decided. Mateas was trailing Stodder 6-7 (5-7), 2-5 on the top singles court, Levine was in a battle with Jones 3-6, 5-4 deep in the second set at the No. 3 spot and Pura was leading Schipanski 6-3, 3-4 on Court 5.
Although his match did not go to completion, Pura's turnaround after falling behind early in the first set seemed to take some life out of the visiting Volunteers (7-3), who had chances on several singles courts but could not get on the board.
"TJ got down, he was down 0-2, 0-40, I thought he did a great job mentally staying with it. That was a huge set for us to keep the team momentum going," Smith said. "He's been an absolute rock for us and a leader and done such a good job."
The matchup against N.C. Central (0-4) was a rout from the start, with the doubles tandems of Lapidus and Dickerson and Levine and Pura earning Duke the doubles point and losing just one game combined.
Singles was more of the same, with Levine, Furman, Pura, Dickerson and Lapidus losing three games or fewer in straight-set romps on Courts 2-6. Although Stachowiak dropped the second set against Gabriel Cucalon at No. 1 singles, the rookie kept his winning streak alive by taking a 10-point tiebreaker in place of the third set 10-5.
With the nation's top teams competing at the ITA national indoor team championships next week, Duke will have almost two weeks off to get healthy and prepare for its first outdoor matches of the spring Feb. 25 against Coastal Carolina and Charlotte.