Faced with its third straight match as a shorthanded team against a top-10 opponent, the Blue Devils knew they needed something special to spring an upset.
Despite some early momentum and several gutsy wins, Duke fell just short.
The Blue Devils fell 4-3 to No. 10 UCLA on Thursday at the Sunset Canyon Tennis Courts in Los Angeles. Head coach Ramsey Smith's team started the match strong, grabbing the doubles point, but the Bruins got commanding singles wins on Courts 2, 3 and 6 to seize a 3-1 lead. The remaining Duke players put up a heroic effort, but the continued absences of junior Nicolas Alvarez—who has not played since Jan. 11 due to a wrist injury—and freshman Robert Levine, who missed his fourth straight match due to illness, meant that the Blue Devils did not have enough depth to pull off the upset.
Even sophomore Catalin Mateas registering an upset against the No. 11 singles player in the country was not enough to propel Duke to victory.
The Blue Devils (8-6) got off to the best possible start to the match, as the sophomore doubles tandem of Ryan Dickerson and Jason Lapidus sped out to a 6-3 victory on the No. 2 doubles court. This was quickly followed by the duo of senior TJ Pura and Mateas winning 6-4 at No. 3 doubles to give the Blue Devils the doubles point and a 1-0 lead.
But the momentum did not carry over to singles when UCLA (10-4) showcased the depth that makes it one of the top teams in the country.
Lapidus was overwhelmed at No. 6 singles, losing 6-4, 6-2 to Bruin freshman Maxime Cressy. This was the sophomore’s fourth straight loss after being pressed into singles action due to Levine’s absence. He had only played in one match in the spring season before manning the No. 6 singles position tin the team's last four dual matches.
This was quickly followed by freshman Nick Stachowiak dropping a 6-3, 6-1 decision at No. 3 singles. Stachowiak, the No. 94 ranked singles player in the nation, has now lost three consecutive matches after going undefeated up to that point in the spring.
The Bruins wasted no time building on their advantage, grabbing another victory this time at No. 2 singles. No. 42 Martin Redlecki, who was initially committed to Duke before his brother Michael transferred to Arkansas, dominated freshman Spencer Furman in the closing set of a 7-6, 6-1 victory. This was Furman’s first match at No. 2 singles all season and he could not continue the momentum from his recent upset of No. 5 Skander Mansour of Wake Forest.
Redlecki's win pushed the UCLA lead to 3-1 and put pressure on Pura at No. 4 singles. Coming into the match, the senior had been playing some of the best tennis of his career, racking up a 3-0 record in ACC play. But Pura got off to a rough start and dropped the first set 6-0, before battling to win the second 6-4. After trading games to go 1-1 early in the deciding set, the Pacific Palisades, Calif., native could not keep up and lost 6-3 to Logan Staggs to seal the match for the Bruins.
The Blue Devils mounted a comeback after the outcome had been decided when Dickerson snatched a 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 victory at No. 5 singles. After a subpar first set, the sophomore turned it on and cruised past Austin Rapp to a comfortable win.
This set the stage for the stage for Duke’s highlight of the day. Mateas rolled to a surprisingly comfortable 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory against No. 11 Gage Brymer. Despite struggling in the first set, the sophomore jumped out to a 3-0 lead to start the second set and never looked back, putting in a dominating performance in the third set to take the win.
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This was Mateas’s third straight matchup against a top-20 opponent and after two disappointing losses, he did not let Thursday's opportunity slip away.
The Blue Devils' schedule now eases up just a bit—Duke returns home for back-to-back ACC matches against N.C. State and Boston College Wednesday and Friday before another test at No. 3 Virginia March 26.