With a three-game winning streak and some confidence in their back pockets, the Blue Devils took to the courts Thursday in search of a signature nonconference victory.
Instead, it wound up a long afternoon for the home team inside Sheffield Tennis Center.
No. 8 Michigan routed 10th-ranked Duke 4-0, shutting out the Blue Devils after picking up the early doubles point before thoroughly controlling singles play and cruising to victory. The Wolverines earned first-set victories on all six courts before finishing Courts 2, 3 and 5 in straight sets to clinch the match.
"Congrats to Michigan, I thought they did a really good job. Doubles set the tone and I thought we played a good doubles point, especially at [Courts] 1 and 3," Duke head coach Ramsey Smith said. "I don't know if we put the doubles point behind us quickly enough, and obviously we got off to a very poor start in singles."
After the Wolverines (9-2) picked up a 6-4 win on Court 2, the Blue Devils had their backs to the wall needing both of their other pairings to come through for the opening point of the contest. On Court 3, with a chance to break for the match, juniors Ryan Dickerson and Jason Lapidus nearly won a spectacular sequence, but instead had to settle for a Michigan hold.
Following two more service holds, it came down to a tiebreak. With the Wolverines up 5-4, Duke (9-5) won the final three rallies capped by a Lapidus service winner down the line, turning everyone's attention to Court 1.
With the Blue Devils' top duo of Sean Sculley and Nick Stachowiak up against the eighth-ranked team of Alex Knight and Runhao Hu, Duke faced an uphill battle throughout. Sculley's serving twice kept the Blue Devils right in the match, and with Duke facing double match point, it looked like he might be able to play hero once more.
But at deuce, a Blue Devil shot into the net gave the visitors a lead they would never relinquish.
Michigan dropped just 17 total games across six courts in the first set of singles, only burying Duke further as the second portion of the dual match got underway.
"Naturally, you're always discouraged when you lose a doubles point, especially when you have chances and I think that's one of Michigan's best spots," Smith said. "We just need to do a better job putting that behind us and have an urgency those first three games. Michigan definitely took control of the momentum of the match."
The first court to finish was No. 2, where 92nd-ranked Catalin Mateas struggled to find any rhythm against No. 33 Hua. After pulling level at 4-4 in the opening set, Hua ripped off a hold and a break to take the set and the Wolverine lost just two more games the rest of the way.
Not far behind was the third court, where Spencer Furman fell in his first match after nearly a month away from competitive play. Against Mattias Siimar, one of Michigan's two Estonian freshmen twins, the Blue Devil sophomore fell behind 3-0 early en route to a 6-3 first-set loss.
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And even after Furman pulled ahead 5-3 in the second, Siimar closed strong to win the last four games and put Duke on the brink of defeat.
But for a moment, it looked like the Blue Devils might have a shot at another comeback victory. No. 32 Nicolas Alvarez, after being dressed down 6-1 in the first set, found himself trading service games with the nation's fifth-ranked player, Alex Knight, as the two eventually went to a tiebreak.
Just as quickly as he dropped the opening set, Alvarez picked up the breaker to level his match.
"Nico's down 6-1, 4-1, getting crushed, to be honest," Smith said. "He did a good job to hang in there and compete well.... [Knight's] always been talented, but he's really put it together. He's lefty, he's got so much action on the ball, he's got a huge serve. Awkward player to play, but he's shown he's one of the best players in college."
The Wolverines didn't need much more time, however, to get a fourth point to lock up a victory. After Sculley dropped his first set, the freshman seemed to find some footing in the second. Yet with Sculley holding a 5-3 advantage, Michigan's Carter Lin regained his early groove and won the final four games to end the match early.
For Duke, Thursday was the third loss in what's been a brutal two-week stretch—and the road will not get much easier going forward. The Blue Devils play three of the ACC's other ranked sides within the next 20 days, with two of those matches taking place away from Durham.
Although it might not be easy sledding, Duke knows it'll have plenty of chances to prove its worth.
"You've got to view all these matches as great opportunities," Smith said. "These wins are huge if you can find a way to win matches, so you've got to put things behind you, keep working and stay positive as team."