"This one feels really good after them beating us at our place," said head coach Ramsey Smith. "I told [the team] after that match, 'It's not the biggest match of the year. Hopefully, if things go well, we can get another shot at them and beat them in the tournament.' To me, that's the one I take - if I can take one of them, I take the one to give us a shot at Virginia for an ACC title."
Despite dropping the doubles point in last week's 4-3 regular season loss to the Tar Heels, Duke responded Saturday by winning the point in dramatic fashion. The duo of senior Torsten Wietoska and freshman Raphael Hemmeler rallied from an early deficit against North Carolina's Esben Hess-Olesen and Zach Hunter at the No. 3 spot to collect an 8-5 victory and lead the Blue Devils off the courts. Wietoska and Hemmeler picked up their second doubles victory of the ACC Tournament while improving to 12-4 overall this season.
On court two, senior David Holland and sophomore Fred Saba grabbed a pair of key breaks at 4-all and 6-4 to defeat the Tar Heels' Cameron Ahari and Brennan Boyajian, 8-5. The win pushed Holland and Saba's ledger to 5-3 on the year and gave Duke a 1-0 advantage in the match.
Junior Henrique Cunha and sophomore Chris Mengel - tabbed 15th in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's latest doubles rankings, fought back from a 7-2 deficit against No. 19 Joey Burkhardt and Jose Hernandez in the No. 1 contest. The Tar Heels were leading, 7-5, when the match was abandoned.
"We did a great job of hanging in there in doubles," Smith said. "Two was down a break and they turned things around. That provided a lot of momentum going into singles. But having said that, we knew we had our work cut out for us. They're a great team and they play really well against us."
Last week's regular season contest between the two schools saw Duke post first-set victories on all six courts but come away one singles victory short. After winning the doubles point on Saturday, the Blue Devils needed wins on just three of the six courts in singles to advance.
The Tar Heels quickly evened the match at 1-all in singles when William Parker defeated Hemmeler, 6-4, 6-2, from the No. 5 position. Hess-Olesen then made it a 2-1 lead for North Carolina, posting a 6-3, 6-2 victory over 115th-ranked Wietoska in the No. 3 contest.
In a battle of ranked players on court one, No. 4 Cunha faced No. 27 Hernandez for the second time in as many weeks. Hernandez claimed a hard-fought 2-6, 6-1, 7-5 victory in the last meeting, but it was Cunha who would prevail Saturday, dispatching Hernandez in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4. Cunha improved to 35-7 overall this season and earned his 21st win over a ranked opponent. The Jaú, Brazil native also pushed his career record to 5-1 in ACC Tournament singles action.
With the match locked at 2-2, Saba reclaimed the lead for Duke with a victory over Burkhardt on court four. Saba cruised to a 6-1 win in the first set and went up a break early in the second set on his way to a 6-1, 6-4 decision. The Duke sophomore has now won 11 consecutive singles matches and owns a season ledger of 29-10.
Much like in last Wednesday's regular season contest, the No. 2 singles match figured largely into the final result. While 81st-ranked Boyajian bested No. 36 Mengel in three grueling sets to send North Carolina to the 4-3 victory last week, Mengel claimed the upper hand on Saturday, edging Boyajian by a 7-5 score in the first set and winning the second set, 6-4. Mengel's victory moved him to 30-10 in singles play this season and clinched the thrilling 4-2 win for the Blue Devils, advancing the squad to Sunday's ACC Championship match.
"It was a heartbreaker last time," Mengel said. "I made sure that today I was really focused. It was a different match, but I think we all were right there with that intensity and we managed to get the win ... That's a huge win. It gives us a lot of momentum."
Duke improved to 22-4 with the victory, marking the second consecutive season that the team has reached 22 wins. North Carolina dropped to 13-7 with the loss and had its run in the ACC Tournament cut short by the Blue Devils for the second-straight year.
The ACC Championship match will feature Duke and Virginia for the third consecutive year. The Cavaliers defeated Duke, 4-0, in last year's title match and by a score of 4-2 in 2010. Virginia has won the past five ACC Tournament titles and shut out fifth-seeded Florida State, 4-0, in the first semifinal on Saturday to reach Sunday's championship match. The Blue Devils' last ACC Championship came in 2006.
When the two teams met during the 2012 regular season in Durham, Duke won the doubles point but Virginia took four of the six matches in singles to earn a close 4-3 victory. The Cavaliers finished their conference slate undefeated at 11-0 to garner the tournament's top seed.
"Virginia is a great team," Smith said. "They've been pretty dominant in the ACC ... We're going to recover and give them all we've got."
#8 Duke 4, #18 North Carolina 2
ACC Men's Tennis Championship
Apr 21, 2012 at Cary, N.C.
Cary Tennis Park
1. #19 Joey Burkhardt/Jose Hernandez (UNC) vs. #15 Henrique Cunha/Chris Mengel (DU) 7-5, unfinished
2. Fred Saba/David Holland (DU) def. Cameron Ahari/Brennan Boyajian (UNC) 8-5
3. Raphael Hemmeler/Torsten Wietoska (DU) def. Esben Hess-Olesen/Zach Hunter (UNC) 8-5
1. #4 Henrique Cunha (DU) def. #27 Jose Hernandez (UNC) 6-2, 6-4
2. #36 Chris Mengel (DU) def. #81 Brennan Boyajian (UNC) 7-5, 6-4
3. Esben Hess-Olesen (UNC) def. #115 Torsten Wietoska (DU) 6-3, 6-2
4. Fred Saba (DU) def. Joey Burkhardt (UNC) 6-1, 6-4
5. William Parker (UNC) def. Raphael Hemmeler (DU) 6-4, 6-2
6. Oystein Steiro (UNC) vs. Jason Tahir (DU) 6-4, 3-6, 3-2, unfinished
Duke 22-4, 9-2 ACC; National ranking #8
North Carolina 13-7, 9-2 ACC; National ranking #18
Order of finish: Doubles (3,2); Singles (5,3,1,4,2)