After dominating their Friday matches, the Blue Devils faced a tough challenge in No. 6 North Carolina right around the corner.
And despite an impressive doubles showing, the Tarheels' dominance up and down the roster prevented Duke from notching an upset.
The Blue Devils competed in the ITA Kick-Off Weekend at North Carolina's Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center in Chapel Hill, where Duke notched a 4-0 win against Middle Tennessee Friday but fell 4-1 to North Carolina Saturday. Although the Blue Devils started their weekend off strong and notched a historic doubles point against the Tar Heels, North Carolina flipped the script in the singles arena.
“Our main goal was to go out and be aggressive and just kind of go after it,” Duke head coach Ramsay Smith said. “Make sure we’re not playing careful, not playing defensive, try to play on our terms as much as possible. I thought we did that our first match against Middle Tennessee state, did a really great job with that. The doubles and the start of singles were very good. And today we played our best doubles point of the year, we played a heck of a doubles point.”
Friday was a great day for the Blue Devils, as they started their weekend with a sweep of the Blue Raiders. Lots of good action played out on court 2, as senior Jason Lapidus and sophomore Sean Sculley brought in the first win of the weekend, dropping just one game. Juniors Spencer Furman and Nick Stachowiak also worked well together and the duo brought in a quick 6-3 doubles win for the Blue Devils.
With doubles victories already under their belts, the Blue Devils loosened up and finished out the singles matches with ease. Furman and Lapidus both won their matches 6-3, 7-5. The rest of the singles matches went into third sets, but Duke ended the day with a comfortable win against Middle Tennessee State (2-2).
Going into Saturday, the Blue Devils (3-2) knew they had a hard evening of matches ahead. Historically, North Carolina has had Duke's number, outscoring the Blue Devils 90-40 over the course of their rivalry. Losing the past six matches against North Carolina, none of the players had felt a victory over the Tar Heels.
However, the Blue Devils didn’t let this discourage them as they went into the match fighting.
The first doubles win went to North Carolina (4-0), as Mateas and senior Vincent Lin lost 6-3. However, the second match went to Duke’s Stachowiak and Furman with a 6-3 win. With wins on opposite sides, stakes were high for the final doubles duo of Lapidus and Sculley. The last time Duke took the doubles point from the Tar Heels was at the 2015 ACC tournament, and Lapidus and Sculley were ready for a change.
The dynamic duo toughened it out in a long and hard battle that came down to the final possible rally. In dramatic fashion, Lapidus and Sculley pulled out a 12-10 tiebreak victory to win the match 7-6.
“It was a really exciting doubles point night,” Smith said. “Definitely one of the more memorable points I’ve been involved in. It came down to court number two, 12-10, it was a packed house, and our guys really stepped up so overall our doubles have improved a lot during the season. We lost our first two doubles points and won our last three. So definitely excited with the improvement on the doubles side.”
Unfortunately, after the exciting doubles win and a weekend of some great tennis, Duke struggled in all of the singles matches and dropped the match 4-1. In both of the unfinished matches, the Blue Devils were also trailing North Carolina as well.
“Singles we got off to a pretty good start, I feel like there was a big change of momentum at the end of the first set,” Smith said. "Where we lost a lot of close first sets or we had the chances, Cat had set point in the first set and I felt like we just needed something to continue momentum and creds to UNC—I thought they played extremely well and once got had those first sets under their belt they loosened a little bit and they were the better team in singles tonight.”
Duke will next head to Champaign, Ill., to play Illinois Friday, the first part of a Midwest weekend road trip that will later see the Blue Devils stop in Evanston, Ill., to challenge Northwestern Sunday.
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