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Duke men's tennis outlasts Kentucky, routs N.C. Central in Sunday doubleheader

Nico Alvarez won a tight three-set match to help Duke beat Kentucky at home.
Nico Alvarez won a tight three-set match to help Duke beat Kentucky at home.

After a tough road loss to Tennessee just two days prior, Duke returned home to Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center Sunday, looking to sweep its doubleheader

The Blue Devils showed heart in a long, hard-fought match against an unranked but competitive Kentucky team at 1 p.m., ultimately emerging victorious by a score of 4-1. Just two hours later, Duke made a quick turnaround to play an N.C. Central team riddled by injuries—with only five healthy Eagles, the Blue Devils easily dispatched their crosstown rivals 5-1.

“That’s what it is to be a competitor—to have that toughness, that grittiness, that resilience,” head coach Ramsay Smith said after the Kentucky match. “We’ve done a really good job of that so far this year, the guys are embracing it. We knew after doubles we still had a long way to go. We knew it was going to be a dogfight and come down to toughness."

An eager Duke team started out the day in doubles against a Wildcat side that had beat it multiple years in a row. Doubles were an area that the Blue Devils were hoping to improve on after losing the doubles point in their Friday match against the Volunteers.

They did just that, with the Blue Devils (6-2) taking the doubles point handily in both matches Sunday. Against the Wildcats, sophomore Nick Stachowiak and freshman Sean Sculley made quick work on Court 1, winning the set 6-1, while Mateas and redshirt junior Nicholas Alvarez clinched it 6-2 on Court 2.

In doubles against N.C. Central, the Blue Devils were at an advantage with their opponent forfeiting on Court 3. Sophomore tandem Ryan Dickerson and Jason Lapidus then swept the Eagles 6-0 on Court 2 for the opening point.

“We wanted to make some improvements in doubles and I thought we did exactly that. Doubles was really good today," Smith said. "We focused on playing a little bit smarter in certain positions, and being a little bit more aggressive.”

Singles were a different story, however. The Blue Devils knew that the singles competition would be much more difficult, and all but one of the singles matches went to three sets against Kentucky (6-3). 

Dickerson made fairly easy work of Kento Yamada on Court 5, routing the Wildcat 6-3, 6-2 and finishing with plenty of time to rest before his later match against N.C. Central.

The next court to finish was No. 6, where sophomore Robert Levine battled hard against Austin Hussey, losing the first set 1-6 but coming back from a 2-4 deficit in the second set to win 6-4 and force a third set. Ultimately, Levine fell to Hussey in the third set, 4-6, giving Kentucky its only point of the day.

53rd-ranked Alvarez played long points against Kentucky’s William Bushamuka on Court 1, with the two going back and forth in what ended up being a very close match. 

“That guy’s beaten him before—beat him last time when they played on this court two years ago,” Smith said. “He just has a huge game and it’s very tough to get a rhythm against him.... [I'm] really proud of the way Nico hung in there.”

Alvarez took the first set 6-3, but then went down early in the second set, conceding a 6-3 victory to Bushamuka. The two were evenly matched in the third set until Alvarez pulled away, resulting in a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 win for the Lima, Peru native.

“I think it came down to just showing a little more energy and showing them that I was fresh physically,” Alvarez said. “It’s a matter of a couple points. He played very good, important points in the second set. He served two or three aces in the most important points in the set. But when he gave me a chance to step in and take the initiative in the points, I did so. I think it was just a matter of sticking to my game.”

Mateas had a similar situation in the next court over, where he and No. 40 Ryotaro Matsumura went back and forth in three long sets. Mateas took the first set 6-2, and then lost the second set 4-6 to a very emotional Matsumura. In the third set, Matsumura went down with a cramp and never seemed to recover—Mateas took advantage of the situation to defeat the Wildcat 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 and clinch the 4-1 win for Duke. 

Courts 3 and 4 were left unfinished, with Sculley tied 1-1 with his opponent in the third set and Stachowiak leading his opponent 4-2 in the third set, after winning the first set despite an early deficit and then losing the second set. 

“Take Nick, playing great tennis, was up a set at break, was serving for the match, didn’t get it, comes right back and bounces back in the third,” Smith said. “You ever know how a match is going to finish, so you always have to plan on it coming down to your match.”

The Blue Devils had an easier time in singles against N.C. Central (0-3), with the Blue Devils routing their opponents on three of the four singles courts in play. The Eagles had only five healthy players, but Duke forfeited on Court 5, giving its top two players a break after a long and grueling afternoon.

“So much of college tennis is about heart, toughness, resilience, bouncing back from a tough loss, tough travel situation, tough injury situation,” head coach Ramsey Smith said. “It was an intense match, and I think this is going to give us a lot of confidence going into Seattle, getting a win like that under our belt.”

After a successful doubleheader, the Blue Devils will have a few days to rest before they travel to Seattle for the ITA National Indoor Championships starting Friday.