After falling 7-5 to Duke sophomore Nick Stachowiak in a tight first set Sunday, Kentucky’s senior Jake Stefanik seemed demoralized by his opponent's discipline.
From there, it took little time for Stachowiak to walk away with a title.
Stachowiak's A2 singles victory at the Wake Forest Fall Invitational Sunday was the culmination of an overwhelmingly successful fall slate for last year’s team MVP. He finished 11-3 in singles and also won the doubles title in Winston-Salem, N.C., alongside teammate Spencer Furman. The nation’s No. 12 doubles duo cruised to the A3 doubles championship, dropping just three games and sweeping the finals.
“By the second set, he was beaten,” Smith said of Stefanik. “You could tell he just didn’t think he could win, which is where you want to get as a tennis player.... The ceiling is high [for Stachowiak].”
Duke played without No. 34 Nicolas Alvarez because he had missed so much class from competing in the ATP World Tour Lima Challenger Copa Claro in Lima, Peru in October, and No. 66 Catalin Mateas due to a mild back injury, Smith noted.
It was not the toughest competition the Blue Devils had faced this season, however. Stachowiak and Furman combined to face just one top-100 player—Kentucky’s No. 98 Enzo Wallart—but Smith was excited about the way his team, especially Stachowiak, closed the fall.
Stachowiak gritted out a 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (3) comeback victory against Wallart, displaying a mental toughness of which Smith was most proud. Stachowiak had worked a lot with Duke’s coaching staff on his serve and forehand, but his mental game stood out this weekend.
“Nick has developed a complete game with no holes,” Smith said. “He’s a great athlete and he plays extremely disciplined. It takes a lot to beat him and break him down. Very few checkouts during the entire weekend, and he makes guys work very hard. Mentally, that’s very tough.”
After struggling in his first outing paired with Furman in doubles this season, dropping both matches at the ITA Men's All-American Championships last month, the duo rebounded emphatically in Winston-Salem. After defeating Radford's Robin Calais and Michiel Meekers 6-4 in the quarterfinals, the pair did not lose a game the rest of the way against teams from UNC-Asheville and Indiana.
The duo played with a much more aggressive strategy, which seemed to pay off.
“The goal is to make our opponents feel extremely uncomfortable, and we executed that plan very well,” Smith said. “They always return very well, so just working on ways to hold serve a little easier. It’s a much better style than they played last year, which got them to No. 12. I’m very happy about the way they’ve evolved.”
Furman also pushed his way to the semifinals, but fell in the round to Wake Forest’s Bar Botzer and was forced to settle for a third place finish. Botzer, who ranked as high as No. 482 in the ITF professional singles rankings and was at one point No. 28 in the ITF junior singles rankings, ultimately dispatched Furman 6-4, 7-6 (7) after the Blue Devil sophomore put up a late fight.
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“He came up against a very experienced and tough player and competed very well, fought back throughout the match and put himself in position to win the second set—he had a couple set points,” Smith said. “The other guy stepped up and won those points—it wasn’t like Spencer gave it to him.”
Overall, Smith was pleased with a run in the last two tournaments after an up-and-down start to close the fall that included three titles for Duke. Sean Sculley picked up the A2 singles final in the Charlotte 49ers Fall Invitational Oct. 29.
“In the fall at the halfway point, I thought we had done well but had missed out on some opportunities. But these last few tournaments were extremely positive,” Smith said. “It’s nice to finish the fall on this note. It gives us a lot of momentum.”