The Blue Devils headed to Cary, N.C. determined to make some noise in the ACC tournament and set themselves up well for a NCAA run in May.
But after a strong opening match, Duke ran into a familiar foe and was unable to advance to the semifinals, instead pushing its NCAA tournament hopes a little closer to the bubble.
The sixth-seeded Blue Devils won their first matchup against 11th-seeded Clemson Thursday 4-2, booking their place in the quarterfinals. However, they ran into third-seeded Florida State, losing 4-1 at Cary Tennis Park in Cary, N.C. on Friday evening. That defeat marked the third loss in Duke’s last four matches with two of them coming against the Seminoles.
Thursday started off on a high note for the Blue Devils (16-13) as they pulled out the doubles point thanks to a late break point at No. 2 doubles from freshman Sean Sculley and sophomore Nick Stachowiak. Duke then continued the hot start by quickly racking up wins at No. 4 and No. 6 singles from sophomore Robert Levine and Sculley.
Clemson (10-13) then battled back to make the match competitive, grabbing wins at No. 1 and No. 5 singles as senior Nicolas Alvarez lost his third match in a row. Things were on the ropes for a little while before junior Catalin Mateas squashed the comeback with a dominant final two-set performance to win 1-6, 6-1, 6-3 to clinch the victory for Duke.
“[Catalin] did a really good job of digging in,” Blue Devil head coach Ramsey Smith said. “He played a poor first set and then changed his tactics, he was tough mentally and really just found a way to win ugly. He did a very good job with that.”
That win brought Duke to the quarterfinals where it matched up with Florida State (27-3) for the second time in three matches after losing to the Seminoles in the last game of the regular season by a score of 4-1.
The Blue Devils started strongly though, winning the doubles point thanks again to a late break from Sculley and Stachowiak. However, things fell apart from there as Florida State won the first five sets and quickly established a 3-1 lead thanks to dominating wins on courts 1, 3 and 5.
“We just got off to a bad start in singles and let a couple matches get away from us pretty quickly,” Smith said. “I was very happy with our doubles, we played great at one and two and really came through in the clutch at No. 2.”
Duke had brief hopes of a comeback when Levine won three straight games to tie the second set at 5-5 on Court 4, but Jose Gracia broke him in the next game and closed out the win 7-6, 7-5 to seal the Seminoles’ berth in the semifinals.
“They have a great team,” Smith said. “You look at the records for all six of their guys and they’ve all had stellar seasons in singles. Our matches were a lot more competitive in singles last time we played…. For whatever reason, we didn’t bring it in all six spots and that’s disappointing to me.”
After seeing their ACC tournament come to a close, the Blue Devils now turn their attention to the NCAA tournament, where they will look to improve on their showing last season when they lost 4-0 in the first round to South Florida.
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“We have one more shot,” Smith said. “I don’t think we gave it our best shot for the ACC tournament, but fortunately our body of work has put us in the NCAA tournament. We’ll take a couple of days off so guys can focus on exams and then we have to get back to work.”
Duke will figure out where it will play in the NCAA tournament during the selection show, which is scheduled for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.