Sean Sculley’s racquet went flying over the fence of Ambler Tennis Stadium’s Court 6 Friday night as he clinched the biggest win of his rookie season.
Down 4-1 in the third set, Sculley found a way to take the deciding match in a tiebreaker to give No. 21 Duke its first win against Virginia in 16 years.
It took the Blue Devils four hours, four three-set singles matches, and two deciding matches to close out the 4-3 victory at home. The Cavaliers, winners of 10 out of the last 11 ACC championships, came into Friday’s match playing their best tennis of the season, but could not close out two match-winning opportunities.
“I was just trying to focus on my court,” Sculley said. “Earlier in the year, I was getting too excited when I was on court. I let it affect my game and I was focusing on the other courts too much. In the middle of the second set, I knew I was going to be the last one out there. It was going to be me.”
The Blue Devils (13-8, 4-2 in the ACC) were down 3-2, and Sculley and redshirt junior Nico Alvarez were the only two players left under the lights. Alvarez dropped the first set to Virginia’s Carl Soderlund in a tiebreak, but quickly bounced back in the second set, taking it 6-4. Alvarez was more in control during the third, when he broke to serve for the match and took the set 6-3, tying the team score at three points apiece.
And then there was Sculley. The freshman, who went through a five-match losing streak in Feburary, was on the rise again. Sculley has won four of his last five completed matches and was the only Blue Devil to get a win off the nation’s top team, Wake Forest.
Sculley took the first set 6-4 against Virginia’s Kyrylo Tsygura and kept it close in the second, but couldn’t finish it and lost 5-7. As Alvarez tied the match for Duke, Sculley quickly found himself in a hole in the third set. But Sculley had back-to-back breaks and held serve to get back into the match at 4-4. Sculley continued holding serve to then go up 6-5 and even had a match point, but Tsygura came up with a big shot and held, taking it to a deciding tiebreak.
Sculley never trailed in the tiebreak. He took the match 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (4), and racquets went flying as the team stormed the court.
“It came down to Sean,” said Smith. “All through the recruiting process, I thought he was a clutch player and lived for the big moment and certainly had an opportunity to show his toughness there at the end.”
Despite having trouble in past doubles matches, the Blue Devils came up big Saturday, taking a point that made a big difference in the outcome of the match.
Sculley and Nick Stachowiak took their set 9-7 in a dramatic tiebreak against Aswin Lizen and Gianni Ross. Ryan Dickerson and Spencer Furman clinched the point with a 6-3 win against Ammar Alhaqbani and Spencer Bozsik.
But Virginia (11-6, 4-2) bounced back and shut off Duke’s momentum at the start of singles. The Cavaliers’ Matthew Lord took a decisive win against Furman, 6-4, 6-2, followe by Lizen’s 7-5, 6-3 win against Catalin Mateas. Duke’s Robert Levine took down Alhaqbani in Duke’s first of four three-set victories 6-1, 4-6, 6-0.
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It was all tied up at two, with Stachowiak, Alvarez and Sculley left on the courts. After dropping the first set, Stachowiak took the second with a 7-2 tiebreak win, but still ended up dropping the third 6-3.
But Smith said it was that second-set victory that shifted the momentum in singles for the Blue Devils.
“I thought that was the turning point for the singles and gave us a lot of hope,” said Smith. “We were struggling in some spots.”
The Blue Devils hope to hold onto their momentum as they travel to South Bend, Ind., to take on the Fighting Irish, another team the Blue Devils came back against to beat 4-3 just a month ago.