CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The No. 11 Duke men’s tennis team faced its highest-ranked opponent of the campaign Friday at No. 8 Illinois and came away with a hard-fought 4-3 victory. Junior Josh Levine recorded the match-clinching point with a three-set victory on court six against Ross Guignon. Levine dropped the first set 6-0 and trailed 5-1 in the second before claiming a 0-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 victory to seal the Duke victory.
The Blue Devils remained unblemished and improved to 5-0 with the win, while the Fighting Illini fell to 3-1. It was Duke’s second-ever win in Champaign, and first since Feb. 11, 2001. The Blue Devils have won three of the last four meetings with Illinois after dropping 10 straight from 2003-11. The victory snapped a 17-match home winning streak for Illinois and marked the fifth consecutive year Duke has defeated a top-10 opponent on the road or at a neutral site.
Duke got off to a 1-0 lead by winning the doubles point for the fifth time this season. The Blue Devils recorded their biggest upset of the young campaign on court one, with freshman Nicolas Alvarez and senior Raphael Hemmeler topping the No. 3 team of Ross Guignon and Tim Kopinski, 6-3. The win was the 103rd of Hemmeler’s career in doubles, tying him with head coach Ramsey Smith for sixth on the program’s all-time list.
Quickly after that match ended, on court two, Duke claimed the doubles point as senior Jason Tahir and Levine registered a 6-3 victory versus Aron Hiltzik and Jared Hiltzik. On court three, redshirt senior Chris Mengel and junior Bruno Semenzato led 5-3 against Farris Gosea and Aleks Vukic before their match was halted.
In singles, it was Illinois tying the match at 1-1 with a victory on court four. No. 44 Vukic downed No. 112 Semenzato 6-1, 6-1 to even the contest.
Duke then regained the one-point edge with a triumph on court five. Mengel topped Blake Bazarnik 6-2, 7-5 to give the Blue Devils a 2-1 advantage. Mengel led 3-1 and 4-2 before Bazarnik came back and forced a 4-4 tie in the second set. Mengel won two of the next three games to tuck away the set, and match. The victory for Mengel was the 98th of his career. He is two wins shy of becoming the 13th player in Duke history to reach the 100-win plateau.
The Blue Devils pushed it out to a 3-1 lead with No. 36 Tahir defeating Gosea 6-4, 7-6 (7) on court one. Tahir led 3-2 in the second set before falling behind 5-4, only to take two of the next three games and force the tiebreaker.
Illinois answered immediately with victory on court three to cut the Duke lead to 3-2. No. 40 Kopinski downed No. 103 Hemmeler 3-6, 6-2, 6-0. Hemmeler’s loss snapped his nine-match winning streak.
Levine’s heroics on court six gave Duke its fourth point and secured the win for the Blue Devils. Levine came all the way back for a 0-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 victory against Guignon. Levine trailed 5-1 in the second set before forcing a 5-5 tie and winning in the tiebreaker.
No. 18 Alvarez dropped a 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 decision to No. 31 Jared Hiltzik for the 4-3 final. Alvarez suffered his first loss in dual match play and had his six-match winning streak snapped. In the fall, Alvarez had defeated Hiltzik 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 at the ITA All-American Championships to advance to the main draw’s Round of 16.
Duke returns to action Sunday with a 12 p.m. ET contest at No. 30 Northwestern.
#11 Duke 4, #8 Illinois 3
Jan 30, 2015 at Urbana, Ill. (Atkins Tennis Center)
1. Nicolas Alvarez/Raphael Hemmeler (DU) def. #3 Ross Guignon/Tim Kopinski (ILL) 6-3
2. Jason Tahir/Josh Levine (DU) def. Aron Hiltzik/Jared Hiltzik (ILL) 6-3
3. Chris Mengel/Bruno Semenzato (DU) led Farris Gosea/Aleks Vukic (ILL) 5-3, unfinished
1. #36 Jason Tahir (DU) def. Farris Gosea (ILL) 6-4, 7-6 (9-7)
2. #31 Jared Hiltzik (ILL) def. #18 Nicolas Alvarez (DU) 5-7, 6-4, 6-4
3. #40 Tim Kopinski (ILL) def. #103 Raphael Hemmeler (DU) 3-6, 6-2, 6-0
4. #44 Aleks Vukic (ILL) def. #112 Bruno Semenzato (DU) 6-1, 6-1
5. Chris Mengel (DU) def. Blake Bazarnik (ILL) 6-2, 7-5
6. Josh Levine (DU) def. Ross Guignon (ILL) 0-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-4
Duke 5-0; National ranking #11
Illinois 3-1; National ranking #8
Order of finish: Doubles (1,2); Singles (4,5,1,3,6,2)