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Duke men's tennis survives match point to rally past Notre Dame at ITA indoor nationals

<p>Catalin Mateas spent most of his time in the second singles position last season.</p>

Catalin Mateas spent most of his time in the second singles position last season.

With the Blue Devils playing three matches this weekend at the ITA Team Indoor Championship in Seattle, the team went into Sunday’s match with no victories to show for it. After getting swept on both Friday and Saturday, Duke was looking for a win to end the indoor season. 

And after trailing 3-0 and facing match point against No. 22 Notre Dame, the Blue Devils fought their way back to the season’s biggest win so far. 

The weekend started off slow for the Blue Devils. In its first match, No. 20 Duke was swept 4-0 by No. 2 Ohio State. The Buckeyes captured the doubles point with two 6-3 victories. The first win came from Ohio State’s No. 43 team of Matt Mendez and Hunter Tubert taking down Jason Lapidus and Ryan Dickerson. Mendez and Tucker got an early 3-0 lead, and quickly turned that into a 5-1 lead before the Blue Devils were able to hold on for 2 more games. At 5-3, the Buckeyes finished the job. 

The Buckeyes secured the doubles point with their No. 25 team of Mikael Torpegaard and Martin Joyce taking down Sean Sculley and Nick Stachowiak. Duke was able to keep it close, with the set score being down to a one game difference at 4-3, before Ohio State secured the last two games.

Ohio State tallied its final three points in three straight singles victories. No. 30 Kyle Seelig took down Dickerson in a decisive 6-0, 6-2 win. The third and fourth points for the Buckeyes came with Joyce taking down Duke’s Robert Levine 6-3, 6-4 and Tim Seibert closing off the sweep with a 6-4, 6-2 victory against Sculley. 

"Ohio State is definitely a better team than us,” head coach Ramsey Smith said. “I think they played a lot more aggressively than we did.”

On Saturday, Duke faced No. 10 Illinois. The Blue Devils took an early 1-0 lead, capturing the doubles point, but fell short when it came time for singles play. In the first of two matches, Lapidus and Dickerson held off Alex Brown and Caleb Chakravarthi at 6-2. On the next court, Nicolas Alvarez and Catalin Mateas were up 5-3 against Zeke Clark and Aleks Kovacevic before Illinois tied the match 5-5. Duke held on to win the match 7-5. 

Trouble haunted the Blue Devils as they went into singles play, when Illinois swept the singles matches. In the first singles win, Brown took down Stachowiak by breezing through the first set 6-0 and closing out a tight second set at 6-4. The Fighting Illini's Noe Khlif took out Levine 6-0, 6-3, and Illinois extended the lead to 3-1 seconds later as Kovacevic defeated Dickerson 6-1, 6-2. Clark finished off the win for the Fighting Illini by defeating Sculley 6-3, 6-4.

“Part of it is this is the first time our team has made it to the final 16 of a national tournament, so maybe there were some first-time nerves playing in a bigger stage,” said Smith. “We didn’t quite pull together a full team effort.”

Duke entered Sunday’s match against the Fighting Irish wanting to bring home a win. And the beginning of the match had the Blue Devils worrying if they would be able to do so. 

Early on, Duke found itself trailing 3-0, giving up the doubles point with Alvarez and Mateas losing 6-3 and Stachowiak and Sculley falling 6-4, and Dickerson and Sculley both losing their singles matches. Then, the comeback began. 

A three-set parade began with Lapidus’ victory over Grayson Broadus. After breezing through the first set 6-0, Lapidus quickly dropped the second set 6-2. Throughout the final set, Lapidus and Broadus were never more than one game apart, taking them to the a seven-point tiebreaker to decide the match. Broadus had the 6-5 lead and a match point to win the entire match for his team, when Lapidus took the next three points and put Duke on the board. 

On the next court, Stachowiak took the first set 6-3, and dropped the second set 4-6 to Tristan McCormick. McCormick served for the match in the third set, but Stachowiak found his way back into it and took the third set 7-5. 

With Duke just trailing by one, No. 53 Alvarez had to find a way to pull off the upset against No. 28 Alex Lebedev. After dropping the first set 4-6, Alvarez found his way back into the match and took the next two sets 6-3, 6-4. 

With the match tied at 3-3, it all came down to Mateas’ three-setter. Dropping the first set 7-5, Mateas came back and forced a third set that went into a tiebreaker. The breaker was tied at three before Mateas broke free and won it 7-4. This was Duke’s first victory against a top-25 team since the 2015 NCAA tournament. 

“The four guys left in singles came through in an amazing situation, being down 3-0 and losing a bunch of first sets,” said Smith. “It was an incredible effort to come back and give us a win. Coming back from 3-0 is extremely rare. It felt great for our guys to hang in there and battle and experience a big comeback win.”

Duke will host its first match at Ambler Tennis Stadium Saturday with a doubleheader against Coastal Carolina at 10 a.m. and Furman at 3 p.m.. 

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