After nearly a year of waiting, Duke will finally get its star back.
The No. 34 singles player in the country, Nicolas Alvarez, has not played for Duke since retiring just five games into a match as the 10th-ranked player in the nation in January. He then sat out the entire dual-match season with a wrist injury last spring after electing not to undergo surgery, and just returned to full strength roughly six to eight weeks ago.
Now, after Alvarez missed last week’s Duke James Bonk Invite while competing in the Davis Cup for his native Peru, he hopes to return to top form for the Blue Devils this weekend in the ITA All-American in Tulsa, Okla. With just eight players on its roster, Duke gets back much-needed depth with Alvarez and will bring six of its players on the road, including No. 44 Spencer Furman and No. 61 Catalin Mateas, to take on some of the nation’s top talent.
“We’re very excited about the form [Alvarez] is in,” head coach Ramsey Smith said. “He’s healthy. But it’s not only that—he’s put in great practice. He’s super locked in and eager to play for Duke.”
If Alvarez can bring back some of that talent he flashed in his first two full seasons in Durham, it will be encouraging for Smith and Duke. As a freshman, Alvarez burst onto the scene and became an All-American, climbing as high as No. 8 in the rankings.
He fell off a bit in his sophomore season, finishing 17-15, but still earned first-team All-ACC honors, and was on track for a rebound campaign before the injury derailed his junior season. Alvarez still showed some signs of rust in the Davis Cup, winning just one of his five singles sets against the Dominican Republic, though Smith is still confident that Alvarez can return to form quickly.
“[Not getting surgery] ended up being a good decision,” Smith said. “He was able to play 10 sets at Davis Cup in really tough conditions at a very high level. It’s good news going forward for him.”
Duke is coming off a strong showing in the James Bonk Invite, where Furman and junior Jason Lapidus both captured singles titles and Lapidus grabbed a doubles title partnering Mateas, giving the Blue Devils three of four titles against a field chock-full of ACC teams.
Lapidus will not play this weekend, but Furman and Alvarez will both compete in the singles main draw. Mateas and sophomore Nick Stachowiak will play in the qualifying and freshman Sean Scully and junior Ryan Dickerson will play in the prequalifying.
The draws have not yet been released for the tournament that could extend as long as Oct. 9 for the main draw. If Duke keeps winning, it could advance to the Carolina Regional Oct. 13-17 and the ITA Fall Championships Nov. 3.
“It’s always a neat tournament, just the size of the tournament,” Smith said. “It has almost all the top players and most of the players, period, in Division I tennis. People get into the pre-qualifiers and work their way to the qualifying, and if you do really well, you miss a lot of school.”
After an early exit from the the NCAA tournament last season, the Blue Devils hope to keep up the momentum from their first event and prepare for the spring season. Smith views the fall season as a time to get players experience and line up the pecking order for the second half of the year.
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“I guess It’s a preseason to the spring season,” Smith said. “Tennis is a different sport because it’s year-round. Guys play in the summer and in the fall, there’s no real offseason. We’re in a constant state of trying to get better and work on players’ games. The fall caters itself more to being able to do more individual work with guys. The ultimate focus is the spring season.”
Hank Tucker contributed reporting.