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Nicolas Alvarez to forgo final year of eligibility for Duke men's tennis

Nico Alvarez was the Blue Devils' top singles player last season.
Nico Alvarez was the Blue Devils' top singles player last season.

Thought to be returning its entire starting lineup after bowing out in the first round of the NCAA team championships last spring, the Blue Devils found out this week they'll enter 2018 without a key contributor.

The end of an era has come sooner than expected for Duke as redshirt senior Nicolas Alvarez has decided to forgo his final year of college eligibility in order to jumpstart his professional career.

In his three-plus years, Alvarez collected 71 wins, including 31 dual match victories at the top of the Blue Devil lineup. But he missed a significant portion of his third season donning the blue and white.

After graduation last May with his Duke peers, Alvarez spent the latter portion of the summer playing professionally on the ITF Futures circuit where in a three-week stretch, the Lima, Peru native saw his ATP ranking soar to a career-high 554th in the world for singles and a career-high 888th on the doubles side. 

“Nico had an excellent summer on the ITF Futures Tour and has decided to forgo his final year of collegiate eligibility to pursue a professional career,” Duke head coach Ramsey Smith said in a statement. “We are proud of his accomplishments at Duke, including his graduation this past May, and look forward to following his successes.”

Alvarez entered the program after a very successful run in the junior circuit where he reached a career-high junior ranking of No. 17 on Oct. 3, 2014 after playing some of the top tournaments worldwide including the Junior Grand Slams.

Injury halts memorable career

In his freshman campaign, the international recruit became only the fourth Blue Devil to ever be named an All-American in their first season as he finished the year off ranked ITA No. 11. After a sophomore season where Alvarez earned a second consecutive trip to the NCAA singles championship, the junior looked to continue his strong play for a third year in a row— and with a top-15 ranking entering the fall slate, Alvarez won nine matches and lost five. 

But he suffered a devastating wrist injury, for which he was awarded a medical redshirt for that season, allowing Alvarez to return for two more seasons.

Alvarez returned to the court last fall and picked up where he left off. In his first dual match schedule in nearly two years, the redshirt junior notched 15 wins, including one over top-ranked Tar Heel William Blumberg. The Peru native reached No. 11 in the singles poll on April 17 and then finished the year in the No. 23 spot. Along with junior Catalin Mateas, Duke’s premier doubles duo completed their season ranked No. 31.

Representing Peru in the Davis Cup

In 2016, Alvarez was selected as the youngest member of the Peruvian Davis Cup team and has played in seven matches for his home nation during the past three years. In only his fourth match, the Duke standout clinched the victory against Venezuela to move his country to Group I Americas for the upcoming Davis Cup season.

Overall, Alvarez is a perfect 4-0 when playing on clay courts, but is only 1-3 when the Davis Cup match is played on a hard court. Alvarez’s singles ability has left the 22-year-old with a 5-2 record with one doubles loss to accompany the singles.

Currently, Alvarez is the second highest-ranked Peruvian singles player. Juan Pablo Varillas has the highest ranking at 341 and five Peruvian players are ranked within the top 904. On the doubles side, the former Duke player sits as the fifth highest-ranked player from Peru.

Transition to professional tennis

Last December after the fall semester, Alvarez went home to Peru to play in two Future level tournaments, the lowest of three echelons in men’s professional tennis. After securing four victories on the clay courts, he fell to the No. 2 seed Daniel Elahi Galán—currently ranked No. 184—in a tightly contested match. The following week, Alvarez won his first match and lost in the Round of 16 to move his singles ranking up to 1073th at the year’s end.

In the last week of July, the Duke rising redshirt senior saw his ranking rise to 870th without playing in ATP matches. Then he played in the Futures event in Decatur, Ill., and everything changed. Alvarez racked up three wins as the top seed in the qualifying draw to earn his way into the main draw. After four wins, he was into his second singles championship match of his career against 2018 Australian Open juniors champion and current No. 3 junior Sebastian Korda. Off six aces and an 85 percent win percent on first serves, Alvarez took the match 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

In the next week’s tournament in Edwardsville, Ill., Korda, who is currently ranked 546th on the men’s side, got the better of Alvarez, winning 6-2, 6-4 in the semifinals. In the first round, Alvarez knocked off teammate and sophomore Sean Sculley 6-1, 6-3. On the doubles side, the Peru native earned his first title with Liam Caruana in a 6-7(6), 7-6(3), 1-0(10-7) victory against a pair of Americans after reaching the semifinals the week prior. Alvarez lost in straight sets to top-seeded and then No. 221 Antoine Hoang 3-6, 3-6 on the singles side.

The immediate impact of this decision will be seen with the Blue Devils this season. Smith’s team did not lose any other players to graduation and welcomes freshman Robert Maciag to the team as the eighth member. The Sterling, Va., native is No. 14 in the Tennis Recruiting Network’s Class of 2018 rankings and is rated as a five-star player.

Correction: A previous version of this article included a photo of Sean Sculley, not Nicolas Alvarez. The Chronicle regrets the error.