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Nicolas Alvarez clinches season opener for Duke men's tennis at Arizona State

Nicolas Alvarez rallied for a three-set win in singles to lift Duke to victory.
Nicolas Alvarez rallied for a three-set win in singles to lift Duke to victory.

College tennis history was made Saturday afternoon when Arizona State faced Duke. 

The Sun Devils played their first match since 2008, representing the first time in history a Power 5 program has reintroduced a men’s tennis program. That 2008 match? A loss to Duke in the NCAA tournament. 

“There was more than just the actual match today,” Duke head coach Ramsey Smith said. “It was a historic time for college tennis.”

25th-ranked Duke emerged from the Whiteman Tennis Center in Tempe, Ariz., with a tough 5-2 victory, the 15th time in 16 years that the Blue Devils have won their season opener. Redshirt junior Nicolas Alvarez, playing his first dual match in two years after missing all of last season due to a wrist injury, clinched it for Duke after engineering an impressive comeback on court two.

“It was a great overall team effort,” Smith said. “I really challenged this team by setting up a tough match on the road in a really tough environment to kick off the season. But I thought our guys handled it extremely well.”

Duke started off the match strong, with juniors Ryan Dickerson and Jason Lapidus winning their doubles match 6-1 on court two. Their opponents, Benjamin Hannestad and Tim Ruehl were ranked No. 54. 

But the Sun Devils came away with the victory on court one as Michael Geerts and Makey Rakotomalala overcame the Duke pairing of freshman Sean Sculley and sophomore Nick Stachowiak, 6-2. Alvarez and sophomore Spencer Furman responded by winning court three against Thomas Wright and Andrea Bolla, 6-3, and secured the doubles point for the Blue Devils.

The Sun Devils opened the singles portion of the match with a pair of victories to take a 2-1 lead. Rakotomalala triumphed over Stachowiak 6-4, 6-2 on court four, and No. 44 Hannestad ground out a win against junior Catalin Mateas 7-5, 6-3 on court two.

The Blue Devils managed to roar back with three straight singles victories. It began with No. 81 Spencer Furman dispatching Tim Ruehl 6-2, 6-2 to even the score. But it was freshman Sean Sculley who came away with a huge 6-3, 7-5 victory over Bolla to give the Blue Devils a 3-2 lead. 

“A big takeaway was Sean Sculley’s first career match,” Smith said. “He looked amazing out there today and really stepped up in some clutch moments. He won a huge match for us at number 5, which helped us continue our momentum.”

Alvarez—ranked No. 48—delivered the final blow, coming from behind to defeat No. 51 Geerts 4-6, 6-2, 6-3. In the first set, the two were holding even until Geerts broke Alvarez’ serve to take a 5-3 advantage. However, Alvarez stormed back and thoroughly dominated Geerts in the final two sets to clinch it for the Blue Devils. 

“It came down to Nico Alvarez,” Smith said. “Nico was extremely mentally tough, very resilient and he bounced back. It was Nico’s first dual match since 2016, so a big takeaway was how special it was to have Nico back on the team and playing a level of tennis that we know he can play.”

In the final match of the day, Dickerson managed another impressive comeback, defeating Will Kirkman 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) on court six. After a difficult first set, Dickerson rallied to even the score. In the final set, the score was knotted at 4-4, 5-5, and 6-6 before going to a tiebreaker. The tiebreaker was a back and forth affair, but Dickerson won four of the final five points to secure the win. 

“Even though they’re restarting their program, they have a lot of extremely talented players. It was a heck of a match today,” Smith said. “This isn’t a ranked program now, but they have the talent to be ranked.”

Duke will continue its season Jan. 27-28 as it travels to Fort Worth, Texas, to compete in the ITA Kickoff Weekend. The Blue Devils will take on Louisville before facing the winner of No. 10 TCU and San Diego. Whoever emerges victorious will travel to Seattle to participate in the ITA National Men’s Team Indoor Championship, held Feb. 16-18.