Duke traveled north to Illinois this weekend to continue its tough nonconference slate with a doubleheader, looking to bounce back after a loss to No. 6 North Carolina.
However, the rough start to the season continued as the Blue Devils were overwhelmed on Friday then lost a hard fought match on Sunday.
Duke fell 6-1 to No. 15 Illinois on Friday at the Atkins Tennis Center in Champaign, Ill., before traveling to Evanston where it lost 4-3 to Northwestern on Sunday at the Combe Tennis Center. The weekend marked the third straight loss for the Blue Devils after beginning the season 3-1.
Duke was on the back foot immediately against the Fighting Illini as Illinois quickly captured the doubles point with a 6-2 victory on Court 1 and a 6-4 victory on Court 2. The singles matches started much the same way as Caleb Chakravarthi rolled 6-2, 6-2 over Samir Agadi on Court 6 and Spencer Furman lost 6-4, 6-2 on Court 2 to give the Illini a quick 3-0 lead.
Nick Stachowiak attempted to lead a comeback from the No. 1 singles position with a 6-2, 6-3 win over No. 10 ranked singles player Alex Brown. The win was Stachowiak’s first win over a top 10 opponent in his career and brought the Blue Devils within two points.
“Nick’s been amazing,” Duke head coach Ramsey Smith said. “Not just this weekend, but the whole dual season so far. Biggest win of his college career taking out Brown, who is No. 10 in the country then backing it up against a tough Stary from Northwestern. He’s been a huge bright spot.”
However, Illinois (1-0) swept the rest of the matches to finish with a 6-1 victory thanks to a convincing win at No. 4 singles followed by two hard fought third set victories.
The Blue Devils (3-4) had to quickly refocus to face the Wildcats on Sunday, but came out flat for the doubles matches, losing 6-2 on Court 1. Catalin Mateas and Vincent Lin tied things up for Duke with a 6-4 win on Court 3, but Northwestern got the doubles point thanks to a 7-6 win on Court 2.
“We put ourselves behind the 8-ball by losing the doubles point,” Smith said. “It came down to a tie-breaker at two that we weren’t able to pull it out.”
Duke bounced back in the singles matches, jumping out to a 2-1 lead behind Robert Levine’s 6-2, 6-3 win on Court 5 and Stachowiak’s 6-2, 6-4 triumph on Court 1 over Dominik Stary. The Wildcats (2-4) rallied back with a win on Court 2 to tie things up 2-2 with three matches headed to a decisive third set.
Lin grabbed a lead for the Blue Devils with a 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 win on Court 4, but Northwestern came back to clinch the match with back to back wins on Courts 3 and 6 sending Duke home empty handed.
“[Catalin] and Jason were able to win the second set which was huge,” Smith said. “Towards the end, it came down to a couple points. Jason got broken in a game where he had triple game points…I thought Northwestern was aggressive and got after it and obviously it was a tough way to lose.”
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The Blue Devils will look forward to another ranked matchup next weekend when they travel down to Florida for a primetime matchup against No. 20 Tennessee.
“Our schedule is tough all the way through, conference and non-conference, all these matches are great opportunities. This next match is going to be really special, it’s a live match on the Tennis Channel, one of six featured college matches this season."