After two dominant nonconference wins, Duke was riding high going into ACC play and a matchup against Tobacco Road rival North Carolina.
However, for the second time this season, the Blue Devils were overwhelmed by the Tar Heels and returned to Durham empty-handed.
Duke fell 4-1 to No. 6 North Carolina Thursday at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center in Chapel Hill. The Blue Devils lost the doubles point early on and the Tar Heels rolled from there, winning three singles matches in straight sets and only dropping a solitary match.
“First off congrats to [North Carolina] as they played a tough match,” Duke head coach Ramsey Smith told GoDuke.com. “I thought we played a lot better at singles than we did last time we played them.”
The doubles point was hard fought as both matches remained tight going into the later stages of the set. Nick Stachowiak and Jason Lapidus were tied 4-4 at No. 1 doubles before being broken and ultimately losing 6-4, while on Court 2, the match was tied 5-5 before the Blue Devils were broken allowing North Carolina to win the doubles point.
“I thought we had a tough start in doubles at one but we were playing well at two and three,” Smith said. “We had some break point chances on both two and three and it came down to a couple of points there, but we certainly had our chances and were close.”
Duke (5-6, 0-1 in the ACC) tried to regroup before the single matches began, but was unable to regain momentum getting off to a slow start. Simon Soendergaard rolled to an easy victory at No. 6 singles winning 6-1, 6-2 quickly followed by a 6-4, 6-2 win at No. 4 singles from Blaine Boyden over Vincent Lin to give the Tar Heels a 3-0 lead.
Spencer Furman was the bright spot for the Blue Devils on the day, scoring a 6-3, 6-3 win at No. 3 singles over No. 48 Josh Peck. This was Furman’s third consecutive singles win and his first over a ranked opponent this season. The junior emerging as a consistent player would be a crucial development for Duke who has lacked consistency in the middle singles positions.
However, this brief moment of hope was quickly dispelled as North Carolina (8-2, 1-0) clinched the match with a 7-6(3), 6-3 win at No. 2 singles. Catalin Mateas put up a heroic fight in the first set against No. 100 Brian Cernoch, but could not keep up the same intensity in the second set as he lost. That marked Mateas’s fifth consecutive loss in singles play as he has struggled to find a consistent position in the lineup, bouncing between No. 2, 3 and 4 singles.
The Tar Heels securing the victory meant that the other two singles matches were left unfinished. However, Duke was leading in both of those matches with No. 38 Nick Stachowiak leading 6-4, 5-5 at No. 1 singles. This continues his recent stretch of strong play. Stachowiak has seized command of the No. 1 singles position and has gone undefeated since Jan. 21 against Kentucky, an eight match stretch including a victory over No. 10 Alex Brown.
This is the same final score as the last time the two teams faced off a month ago as part of the ITA Kick-Off Weekend and is the Blue Devils’ fourth straight loss against ranked opposition. Their last win over a ranked team came on January 18th against No. 24 Arizona State.
The schedule does not get any easier going forward as league play begins to heat up. The ACC is the deepest conference in college tennis, a fact Duke will have to contend with very quickly as No. 2 Wake Forest comes to Durham on Saturday, March 3rd. The Demon Deacons have two of the top six singles players in the country and will pose an extremely stiff test for the Blue Devils who will look to pull the upset.
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“We just have to keep our heads up with a tough stretch with Wake Forest on Sunday,” Smith said. “We competed really hard and came up just short.”