For most of his childhood, Jason Lapidus did not intend to play college tennis.
The son of former Blue Devil head coach Jay Lapidus, the junior played the sport for fun in high school. The Durham Academy graduate didn’t play in elite junior tournaments or national events—he only played for his high school team and at summer camps, said current Duke head coach Ramsey Smith, a two-time All-American under the elder Lapidus.
But after deciding to walk onto the team, the younger Lapidus has gradually taken on a bigger role before breaking through this weekend.
Lapidus won his first career singles title in the B singles draw and the A1 doubles title alongside junior Catalin Mateas this weekend at the Duke James Bonk Invite at Cary Tennis Park in the Blue Devils’ first event of the season. No. 44 Spencer Furman also picked up the A singles title, giving Duke three of the four titles against a field that included North Carolina, N.C. State, Louisville, Wake Forest and Princeton, among others.
Lapidus had gone 6-18 in his singles career before the tournament.
“I’ve been able to see him grow since he was born. He was born my freshman year at Duke, 1997,” Smith said. “He’s just improved so much since he’s gotten to Duke. This summer in particular he got in a lot better shape and has been working on his singles in addition to his doubles. It’s great to see him break through.”
Even before the tournament, it wasn’t originally in the works for Lapidus to play singles until he asked for, and received, the opportunity.
Lapidus beat Wake Forest’s Patrick Hannity—Fox News personality Sean Hannity’s son—6-3, 6-2 in the first round of singles before taking down VCU’s Louis Ishizaka and Elon’s Jacob Bicknell to reach the finals, where he shut down Charlotte’s Sam Rice 6-4, 6-3.
In doubles, Lapidus rolled with Mateas to the finals after 8-7 (8-6) wins against both North Florida and N.C. State before silencing Princeton’s duo of Kial Kaiser and Diego Vives 8-3.
Although Smith said doubles have been Lapidus’ main focus this year, his play this weekend could give him a chance for a bigger role.
“He’s really stepped into a leadership role and is one of those guys you just really like to have on your team,” Smith said. “He makes other people better and works really hard and is very representative of the university.”
After losing just one player from a year ago—T.J. Pura—the Blue Devils also will be deeper than anticipated. No. 34 Nicolas Alvarez’s status for the season was up in the air heading into this year after suffering a wrist injury that has sidelined him since January. The Lima, Peru, native did not play this weekend, but will return to Duke 100 percent healthy, Smith said. Alvarez was representing Peru in the Davis Cup against the Dominican Republic, but will be back for the Blue Devils’ next tournament, the ITA All-American in Tulsa Sept. 30-Oct. 2.
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Alvarez finished 9-5 in singles and 4-1 in doubles in his shortened 2016-17 campaign after earning All-ACC honors in his first two seasons and an All-America honor in 2015.
Even without him, Duke’s doubles didn’t suffer much. Freshman Sean Sculley and sophomore Nick Stachowiak made it to the A semifinals after beating Gardner-Webb’s Maximillian Scholl and Breno Pletz 8-3 before falling in a tiebreaker to Vives and Kaiser, whom Lapidus and Mateas beat in the finals.
Furman and junior Ryan Dickerson made it to the finals in the A2 bracket, but fell 8-5 to the Wolfpack’s Igor and Ivan Saveljic. Smith broke up the No. 12 doubles duo of Furman and Stachowiak, but said to expect them to see significant time side-by-side later this season.
“Overall, we made some progress in doubles,” Smith said. “It was good to be able to see some new teams. The whole goal is to try to get three really good teams for the spring and we have a lot of good options.”
As a team, Duke went 25-7 in its singles and doubles matches, a strong opening outing for a team that was bounced from the NCAA championship early last year, though the competition wasn’t stiff—no opposing player was ranked.
But one of those loses came as a bit of a surprise—Mateas, No. 61 in the Oracle/ITA National Collegiate Rankings, fell 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in the singles Round of 16 to N.C. State’s Georgiy Malyshev, who had never beaten a player ranked in the top 100.
The junior from Braintree, Mass., rebounded to win his next two consolation matches, but is a bit behind physically.
“One thing that hurt him was that he didn’t get many matches this summer, and physically he wasn’t probably where he needed to be in terms of fitness,” Smith said. “He’s going to continue to work hard and get better. It was a disappointing loss for him in the first round, but it was good to see him bounce back.”