CARY, N.C. – On a day that included two delays for inclement weather, a location change and five tiebreakers in singles action, the 11th-ranked and second-seeded Duke men’s tennis team emerged victorious with a thrilling 4-3 decision over Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship quarterfinals.
The Blue Devils at one point held a 3-1 lead in the match but saw that advantage evaporate at the hands of the 40th-ranked and seventh-seeded Hokie squad. Junior Raphael Hemmeler delivered a third-set tiebreak win on court three in singles to help Duke (19-5) advance to the tournament semifinals for the fifth-straight year.
“That was a heck of a college tennis match,” said head coach Ramsey Smith. “Two teams competing incredibly hard and leaving everything on the court. Full credit to Virginia Tech for battling their way back into the match – they are tough. We are tough as well and I’m proud that we found a way to win and advance.”
The Blue Devils captured the doubles point for the seventh time in eight contests, taking a 1-0 lead with wins on courts one and two. In the No. 2 matchup, the duo of junior Jason Tahir and sophomore Josh Levine jumped out to a 5-2 start en route to topping the Hokies’ Hunter Koontz and Joao Monteiro by an 8-3 score. Senior Fred Saba and Hemmeler followed suit on court one, as the 52nd-ranked tandem upended 44th-ranked Andreas Bjerrehus and Amerigo Contini, 8-4. Saba and Hemmeler earned their fourth victory over a ranked opponent and moved their season ledger to 14-5.
In singles, Duke claimed first sets on all six courts but had play suspended twice due to inclement weather. After the second storm hit the Cary area, the match was moved indoors to NC State’s J.W. Isenhour Tennis Center in nearby Raleigh.
When the contest resumed indoors, Semenzato was the first to finish, defeating the Hokies’ Koontz, 6-4, 7-5. Ranked 92nd in the latest ITA national singles poll, Semenzato moved to 30-9 on the year and gave the Blue Devils a 2-0 advantage on the scoreboard.
The match went back and forth from there, with the Hokies earning their first point with a win at the No. 2 position, where 36th-ranked Saba fell to No. 121 Bjerrehus in a three-set decision, 0-6, 6-4, 6-4. Freshman TJ Pura responded from the No. 6 spot, tallying his 14th consecutive win in dual match play. The Duke rookie utilized a 4-2 advantage midway through both sets to dispatch Aaron Gomez of Virginia Tech, 6-3, 6-5.
Pura’s victory put the Blue Devils within one point of clinching the contest, but the Hokies countered with a pair of three-set decisions on courts one and five to even the score at 3-all. Levine and Aaron Gomez of Virginia Tech battled in three sets, with two sets coming down to tiebreaks. After the two players split sets, Gomez was able to edge Levine in the third-set tiebreak, 7-3, to cut Duke’s lead to 3-2. Meanwhile, in a battle of top-30 players on court one, No. 30 Tahir took the first set from No. 24 Contini but dropped a second-set tiebreaker, 9-7. Contini went on to claim the decisive set by a 6-1 margin, bringing the decision down to court three.
Hemmeler earned a late break in the first set against the Hokies’ Monteiro on court three but surrendered the second set in a tiebreak, 7-5. A tiebreaker was also needed in the third set, with Monteiro jumping out to a 5-3 advantage before Hemmeler fought off several match points and rallied to tie it at 6-6. The Zurich, Switzerland native then strung together two consecutive points to clinch the thrilling victory for the Blue Devils.
“Rafa has been in that position before and he loves those moments,” Smith said. “I had full faith in him and knew he was going to battle until the very end. This team has a lot of heart and it shows in those tight moments.”
Duke advances to face North Carolina in Saturday’s semifinals after the Tar Heels defeated NC State, 4-0, Friday evening. The semifinal match between the Tobaaco Road rivals, who played to an exciting 4-3 result last week, is set for 2 p.m. at the Cary Tennis Park.
#11 Duke 4, #40 Virginia Tech 3
Apr 25, 2014 at Cary, NC (Cary Tennis Park)
1. #52 Fred Saba/Raphael Hemmeler (DU) def. #44 Andreas Bjerrehus/Amerigo Contini (VT) 8-4
2. Jason Tahir/Josh Levine (DU) def. Hunter Koontz/Joao Monteiro (VT) 8-3
3. Bruno Semenzato/Cale Hammond (DU) vs. Jai Corbett/Florian Nicoud (VT) 5-6, unfinished
1. #24 Amerigo Contini (VT) def. #30 Jason Tahir (DU) 4-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-1
2. #121 Andreas Bjerrehus (VT) def. #36 Fred Saba (DU) 0-6, 6-4, 6-4
3. Raphael Hemmeler (DU) def. Joao Monteiro (VT) 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (9-7)
4. #92 Bruno Semenzato (DU) def. Hunter Koontz (VT) 6-4, 7-5
5. Jai Corbett (VT) def. Josh Levine (DU) 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 7-6 (7-3)
6. TJ Pura (DU) def. Aaron Gomez (VT) 6-3, 6-4
Virginia Tech 14-11; National ranking #40
Duke 19-5; National ranking #11
Order of finish: Doubles (2,1); Singles (4,2,6,5,1,3)
Match began at Cary Tennis Park, was finished at NC State Indoor Facility