The Tobacco Road foes took to the courts Saturday afternoon in Durham for another battle of whose blue is better in one of the biggest rivalries in college sports. And not only are the Tar Heels Duke’s biggest rival, but they also have William Blumberg, the No. 1 player in the country.
Being held to the ultimate test, the Blue Devils fell short of a team victory, but redshirt junior Nicolas Alvarez left the court with his biggest win of the season.
Blumberg, who started 24-0 last year in his first season at North Carolina, finishing as the NCAA runner-up, came into the match against No. 12 Duke looking to remain perfect against ACC opponents. But Alvarez stopped the well-accomplished Blumberg in his tracks, knocking him off in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, to give the Blue Devils one of their three singles points. But Alvarez’s upset was not enough to give Duke the upper hand in the match, as it fell 4-3 to the eighth-ranked Tar Heels.
“To start off, he was in a great mindset,” Blue Devil head coach Ramsey Smith said of Alvarez. “He was focused on playing aggressive, and against Blumberg you have to do that. You have to go after it. If Nico were to play passive, he wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Alvarez and junior Catalin Mateas quickly lost one of three double matches 6-2 to North Carolina’s Benjamin Sigouin and Anu Kodali to start the match. But Duke immediately tied up play, with Sean Sculley and Jason Lapidus topping Simon Soendergaard and Mac Kiger 6-3.
Down to the deciding match, the Blue Devils gave up the doubles point to the Tar Heels after a tight 7-5 loss. Spencer Furman and Nick Stachowiak, playing together for the first time this season, fell to Blumberg and his partner Robert Kelly after having two match points.
“I thought one and three played great,” Smith said. “We didn’t play poorly at two, we just got broken in two tough games. And I thought UNC served amazing at two. But Jason and Sean were unbelievable at three. I was overall pleased with the doubles.”
The Blue Devils were quick to tie the match, as Stachowiak breezed by North Carolina’s Josh Peck 6-1, 6-1 in singles. Next came Alvarez’s victory, and Duke had its first, and only, lead of the night.
North Carolina quickly bounced back with back-to-back wins, with Blaine Boyden decisively taking a 6-2, 6-2 victory against Ryan Dickerson. Max Kiger, on the other hand, had a tougher challenge making it past Sculley. Kiger took the first set 6-3, but Sculley then evened the match at one set apiece, winning the second 6-2. Coming down to the deciding set, Kiger came out on top and gave the Tar Heels the 3-2 lead.
Another three-setter in Sheffield Indoor was next, but this time the win went to the Blue Devils. Mateas took the first set against North Carolina’s Kelly 6-3, but then dropped the second 3-6. Mateas held off the Tar Heel victory by winning the third set 6-4, despite being down a double-break, and tied up match play at 3-3.
It all came down to the deciding match between Sigouin and Furman—another three-set match. Sigouin took the first 6-4, but Furman found himself right back into the match with a 6-4 set of his own. But in the third set, Sigouin was the one able to secure the victory for himself, and for the Tar Heels.
The Blue Devils will now take a spring break trip to Lake Nona, Fla., for a matchup against TCU.
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“Traditionally we play some of our best tennis over spring break, not having to worry about academic stresses and being able to get away and bond,” Smith said. “I think a big key for us is to take the positives from this match and rebound, bounce back.... Today we lost, but I think we lost in the right way. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve just got to focus on the next match.”