Although the Blue Devils have established themselves as a contender within the ACC, much of their success has come in spurts.
And in a weekend with Duke missing its top performer, the Blue Devils struggled mightily.
The No. 18 Blue Devils fell to both Notre Dame and Louisville this weekend. The Fighting Irish took down Duke 5-2 Friday in South Bend, Ind., at Eck Tennis Pavilion, and the Cardinals brought down the Blue Devils 5-2 at Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center in Durham. With redshirt junior Nicolas Alvarez representing his home country of Peru in the 2018 Davis Cup, the Blue Devils felt the burden on the top singles courts.
“This can go two ways,” Duke head coach Ramsey Smith said. “We can hang our heads, feel sorry for ourselves and mope a bit or we can get back to work and have the best practice of the year on Tuesday. It’s a long season, there are going to be ups and downs and this is definitely a down weekend for us—definitely a tough weekend.”
The Blue Devils (13-10, 4-4 in the ACC) opened their weekend with a tough battle against Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish (13-11, 4-4) rocketed out to an early doubles lead thanks to a decisive 6-3 victory from Tristan McCormick and Brendon Kempin against the Duke tandem of freshman Sean Sculley and sophomore Nick Stachowiak. Although the duo of junior Ryan Dickerson and sophomore Robert Levine held a close margin against Richard Ciamarra and Grayson Broadus on Court 3, the Notre Dame tandem fought through a 6-6 tie to take the tiebreaker 7-3.
After taking the early momentum, the Fighting Irish were quick to follow up on the singles courts.
No. 55 Alex Lebedev cruised past No. 99 junior Catalin Mateas 6-0, 6-4 on Court 1 and Ciamarra took down Stachowiak 6-4, 6-2 on Court 2 to swell Notre Dame’s lead to 3-0. But the Blue Devils managed to crack the scoreboard thanks to a 6-4, 6-1 victory on Court 4 from Levine against Matt Gamble. Although the Duke sophomore dropped the first game of the second set, Levine rebounded with six straight to secure the win.
Sculley was the last of the Blue Devils to pick up a win in South Bend, outlasting McCormick 7-6 (8), 7-5 on Court 5. After battling through a back-and-forth first set to win the tiebreaker, the Duke freshman caught fire to close it out. The second set was a similar seesaw battle, with neither player leading by more than a game, and Sculley pushed through to improve to 5-1 in ACC singles play.
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, the Fighting Irish remained in control. Broadus took down Dickerson 7-5, 2-6, 6-2 to clinch the team match, and Guillermo Cabrera sent Duke packing with one more loss by taking down sophomore Spencer Furman 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6).
Against Louisville (15-7, 5-4), life wasn’t any easier for the Blue Devils despite early momentum in doubles.
The Blue Devils took away two 6-4 wins on Courts 1 and 2 to start their Sunday afternoon. Mateas and Levine were the first off the courts by taking down George Hedley and Fredrik Moe, and Jason Lapidus and Sculley were quick to follow with the decider against Federico Gomez and Ciro Lampasas.
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From there, things began to go downhill for Duke.
Gomez was the first to score for Louisville, taking out Furman 6-3, 6-4 on Court 3. Gomez controlled the first set and then fought off a 4-3 advantage from Furman to close out the match. Although Levine managed to give the Blue Devils the lead again thanks to a 6-4, 6-2 win against Nicolas Rouanet on Court 4, the Duke sophomore was the last Blue Devil to win all afternoon. Levine is now 5-1 in ACC play, having won his last four matches.
“We started off great, especially in doubles,” Smith said. “All six guys grabbed the momentum, but I felt like we didn’t continue that momentum into singles. We got down on almost every single court early and they took it to us on a couple courts… It came down to three three-setters there at the end of it. We needed to win two of them, but we didn’t win any of them.”
The remaining four matches were all marathons for the Blue Devils, with each going to third sets.
Parker Wynn took down Stachowiak 6-3, 1-6, 6-2, to even the score for the Cardinals. Although Stachowiak looked like he had found a rhythm heading into the deciding set, the Cary, N.C., native was unable to overcome an early 3-0 deficit. Minutes later, Brandon Lancaster put Louisville within a point of victory thanks to his 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory against Sculley. Sculley was able to keep it close early in the match, but the junior Cardinal dominated the final set.
Ultimately, Louisville clinched the win with a victory on Court 6. George Hedley took down Lapidus 7-5, 3-6, 6-3. Hedley broke through a 2-2 split to take it home with a 4-1 run. The Cardinals put icing on the cake with a victory on Court 1 from No. 61 Christopher Morin-Kougoucheff against No. 99 Mateas. Although Mateas bounced back from a 7-5 loss in the first set with a 6-3 victory in the second, Morin-Kougoucheff held on in the decider to take two straight games to close it out.
“Credit to Louisville, they played really well and were very tough in some clutch moments.... I was disappointed there at five with Sean,” Smith said. “He was up at center break and kind of lets the guy back in the match a little bit and plays a loose service game. At 2-0, he lets the guy get some confidence and run with it, and that really hurt us.”
The Blue Devils will return next weekend for their last two home matches, starting with Clemson Friday followed by Georgia Tech Sunday.