Entering a crucial weekend for their fragile NCAA tournament hopes, the Blue Devils knew that only an ACC sweep would keep them on the right path.
Duke did just that behind dominant performances in singles and provided a fitting sendoff for one of its key contributors.
The Blue Devils knocked off Notre Dame 4-3 Friday afternoon at Ambler Tennis Stadium and went on to defeat Miami 6-1 at home again Saturday afternoon. Duke fell behind early against the Fighting Irish, but used its singles depth to pull away and carried that momentum into Saturday’s match, which was never in doubt.
“This was a huge weekend for us,” Blue Devil head coach Ramsey Smith said. “It was senior weekend for T.J. [Pura]. We knew we needed some of these wins to help our chances in the postseason.”
Despite a key win for the No. 61 duo of Nick Stachowiak and Spencer Furman against the Fighting Irish's Eddy Covalschi and Josh Hagar, Duke dropped a close doubles point Friday. Pura and sophomore Catalin Mateas were routed 6-2 in No. 3 doubles and the sophomore tandem of Ryan Dickerson and Jason Lapidus fell 6-4 in the deciding match.
However, the Blue Devils (14-8, 7-4 in the ACC) immediately bounced back and seized control of the match.
Duke rattled off four straight singles wins to clinch the victory. Freshman Nick Stachowiak kicked things off with a commanding 6-1, 6-0 win at No. 4 singles. He was immediately followed by Pura, who crushed his opponent 6-2, 6-0 on Court 5. Mateas and Dickerson then closed things out with easy wins at No. 2 and No. 6 singles, respectively.
“I really think it all started with how we came out after losing the doubles point to Notre Dame,” Smith said. “We lost the tough doubles point and played great singles.”
The Fighting Irish (12-10, 3-6) rallied to grab wins at No. 1 and No. 3 singles, but it was too little too late, as the Blue Devils had already cruised to victory.
Smith’s team then faced a quick turnaround, as it matched up against the Hurricanes (8-11, 2-8) less than 24 hours later. Saturday was an emotional Senior Day for Pura, the lone player graduating from this year’s roster, but Duke quickly turned the match into a blowout.
The Blue Devils rolled in doubles with Lapidus and Dickerson getting a quick 6-2 win before the No. 1 doubles tandem of Furman and Stachowiak earned a hard fought 6-4 victory against Miami's Max Andrews and Jesse Flores, the No. 40 doubles team in the country.
Duke's energy carried over to singles play with five straight wins to easily secure the victory. Pura set the tone early with a dominant performance at No. 5 singles, beating Nile Clark 6-3, 6-1 and serving out the match in front of a roaring crowd of supporters.
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Pura is now a perfect 10-0 in conference play—tied for the second most ACC singles wins in Blue Devil history—and holds the program's longest winning streak ever in conference play.
“I’ve called him Mr. ACC for a while,” Smith said. “He steps up in the big moments and is undefeated in the ACCs this year. He seems to play his best when it matters the most—not only his tennis, but he has been a great leader for us.”
The other highlight of the day was freshman Robert Levine winning a hard-fought match at No. 3 singles for his first ACC win of the season. The Bedford, N.Y., native missed more than a month of action with mononucleosis and is returning to form at the right time with the season winding down.
Duke dropped just one set against Miami, before No. 89 Furman fell in a super-tiebreaker at No. 1 singles against No. 46 Piotr Lomacki. But riding a three-match winning streak, the Blue Devils look well-positioned going into their final match of the regular season Friday against Louisville.
But first, Duke gave Pura one last time to say goodbye to the courts that have been his home for the past four years.
“This was kind of bittersweet,” Pura said. “I have so many good memories out here on these courts. It was nice to finish it off with a win and have all the people I love the most in the stands for me every point.”