Faced with a two-match road swing, the Blue Devils knew they faced was a major opportunity to take down a ranked team and solidify their NCAA tournament chances.
However, in what has become a recurring theme this season, Duke came up just short.
The Blue Devils fell 4-3 to No. 17 Georgia Tech Friday night at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex in Atlanta before bouncing back to earn a 5-2 victory at Clemson Sunday afternoon at the Hoke Sloan Tennis Center in Clemson, S.C. The strong singles play of sophomore Catalin Mateas and senior T.J. Pura was not enough to earn Duke what could have been a major ACC weekend sweep.
“A lot of our wins have been pretty convincing and our losses have been extremely close to top teams,” Blue Devil head coach Ramsey Smith said. “We put ourselves in position to win and for whatever reason... just come up a little bit short against some of the top teams.”
Duke (12-8, 5-4 in the ACC) kicked off proceedings against the Yellow Jackets in dramatic fashion, as the doubles point was decided by a tiebreaker on Court 2 after the teams split the two other matches. The sophomore duo of Ryan Dickerson and Jason Lapidus could not lift Duke to victory, falling 7-6 (7-4) to give Georgia Tech (15-3, 7-1) the doubles point.
The Blue Devils bounced back in singles, though, and ran out to a 3-2 lead in the match on the backs of Mateas, Dickerson and Pura. Duke needed just one victory in the remaining two matches, but freshman Nick Stachowiak, who rallied to force a third set, could not keep the momentum going and lost 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 at No. 4 singles.
This set up the decisive final match at No. 2 singles, where freshman Robert Levine—in just his second match since returning from a month-long hiatus due to mononucleosis—fell in a three-set heartbreaker 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 6-3 to 89th-ranked Andrew Li.
“Robert is still coming back from mono,” Smith said. “In the grand scheme of things, he’s done an incredible job in the couple matches he’s been in. It just came down to a couple of deuce points at the end.”
Friday's loss was the Blue Devils’ eighth straight loss to a ranked team this season, and they still lack a win against a top-25 opponent, a statistic that could kill their NCAA tournament candidacy.
Duke could not afford to dwell on the defeat, though, as it faced a quick turnaround before traveling to Clemson to take on the Tigers (8-13, 1-8).
The Blue Devils got off to a quick start, grabbing the doubles point thanks to strong performances at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles. Dickerson and Lapidus were once again in a tiebreaker in the deciding match and bounced back to win 7-6 (7-5) and seal the doubles point.
“I’m really proud of Jason and Ryan to get a chance to be in that exact same situation and come through on a very important doubles point for us today,” Smith said.
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Duke kept rolling in singles, as both Dickerson and Pura had dominant showings on Courts 5 and 6, respectively. Pura remained undefeated in ACC play, running his record up to a perfect 8-0—the senior has been one of the Blue Devils’ steadiest performers all year.
“He’s just been really consistent with his preparation and the work he puts in,” Smith said. “He comes into every match with a great mindset. It gives everyone else confidence. He’s certainly been our leader on the court and a big reason for our success this year.”
But Clemson fought back and pulled within 3-2 thanks to wins at No. 1 and No. 2 singles. Levine remained winless since his return from illness, falling 6-2, 6-1 on Court 2. Furman, who checked in at No. 72 in the country in singles this week, was also upset 6-3, 6-4.
This meant Duke was in the same position as Friday, in need of just one victory in the final two matches to seal the team win. This time, the Blue Devils finished strong, as Mateas clinched the win with a 6-3, 7-5 triumph at No. 3 singles and Stachowiak capped off the match with a 6-2, 5-7, 6-1 victory at No. 4 singles.
The loss to the Yellow Jackets may come back to bite Duke, but its performance against the Tigers showed the team’s ability to recover quickly and put disappointment in the rearview mirror. That will serve the Blue Devils well with just three matches left in the regular season.
Duke will welcome both Notre Dame and Miami to Durham next weekend for a pair of crucial matches as it hopes to maintain its position in the upper half of the ACC standings.