CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The Duke men’s tennis team came within a handful of points of an upset at No. 17 Illinois on Friday evening but ultimately fell 4-3. The Blue Devils held a 3-1 lead in the match before the Fighting Illini came back with the final three singles decisions to claim the victory.
Illinois climbed out of a 3-1 hole with victories on courts two and five, forcing the deciding point to court three, where Duke freshman Robert Levine and Illinois freshman Gui Gomes went the distance in a three set match that broke in Gomes’ favor, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 7-5. In the opening set, Levine led 2-0 before Gomes, ranked No. 100, ripped off six of the last seven games. In the second set, Gomes led 2-1 and broke to go up 3-1. Levine trailed 4-2 and 5-3 before winning three straight with a hold, break and hold. Gomes answered with a hold that forced the tiebreaker, which had Levine lead by as much as 4-1 before the breaker was knotted at 4-4, 5-5 and 6-6. Levine took the final two points to force the third set.
Levine gained a 2-0 lead in the final set before Gomes came back with three straight wins to lead 3-2. Levine held to retie the set at 3-3. Gomes held to lead 4-3, only to have Levine hold and break to go up 5-4. Gomes then broke, held and broke to end the match. Levine is now 15-9 overall and 3-2 in dual matches.
Friday’s match marked the third straight in the series that has been determined by a 4-3 final score. In 2015 in Illinois, it was Blue Devil Josh Levine with a 0-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 win on court six that gave Duke the victory. A year ago in Durham, it was Illinois’ Aleks Vukic who earned a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 win against TJ Pura on court two to give the Fighting Illini the narrow triumph.
For the fourth time in five matches, Duke took an early 1-0 lead with the doubles point. The Blue Devils got the first doubles win as sophomores Catalin Mateas and Vincent Lin topped Gomes and Aron Hiltzik 6-2 on court one. With the set even at 1-1, Mateas and Lin broke and held to go up 3-1. Illinois held to make it a 3-2 Blue Devil advantage, but Duke went on a three-game run to end the match. Mateas and Lin improve to 8-4 and 4-1 in dual matches.
The Blue Devils secured the point in comeback fashion from freshmen Spencer Furman and Nick Stachowiak, who downed Alex Jesse and Vuk Budic 7-5 on court two. The two sides opened with ties at 1-1 and 2-2 before Illinois held and broke to take a 4-2 lead. Duke answered with a hold, break, hold run to assume a 5-4 advantage. The Fighting Illini rallied this time, holding to retie the set at 5-5. From there, Furman and Stachowiak held and broke to end the match. The Blue Devil pair improved to 10-0 and 5-0 in dual matches. The winning streak is the longest for a Duke pair since Henrique Cunha and Raphael Hemmeler won 16 straight from March 5 – May 16, 2013.
Illinois evened the match at 1-1 with a 6-4, 6-1 win on court one from Vukic against Lin. In the opening set, Vukic took an early 3-1 lead only to have Lin storm back with three straight wins and take a 4-3 lead. From there, Vukic won seven straight games to take control of the match en route to the victory. Lin dips to 8-6 and 3-2 in dual action.
Duke regained the lead at 2-1 with a court four triumph from Stachowiak, who won his eighth straight match with a 6-2, 6-4 victory against No. 85 Kovacevic. Stachowiak jumped ahead quickly at 2-0 and 3-1 in the first set. Kovacevic cut the deficit to 3-2, but Stachowiak won the final three games. The two were tied at points one through three in the second set before Stachowiak broke and held to go up 5-3 and hold on for the win. Stachowiak ups his record to 19-4 overall and 5-0 in dual matches. Stachowiak’s eight match winning streak is the longest for a Blue Devil since Hemmeler’s nine from March 15 – April 16, 2015.
Seconds later, the Blue Devil lead was extended to 3-1 as senior Pura picked up a 6-3, 6-3 decision against Zeke Clark on court six. Pura started strong by turning a 1-1 tie into a 4-1 lead. Clark never got closer than two games the rest of the set. In the second set, Pura took a 3-1 advantage before Clark won consecutive games to even the set. Pura broke, held and broke again for the win. Pura improves to 15-7 and 4-1 in dual competition.
Illinois started its winning streak on court two, where No. 29 Hiltzik topped Mateas 6-4, 7-6 (3). In the opening set, Mateas trailed 3-0 before closing the gap to 3-2. He was within a game at 4-3 and 5-4 but could never force a tie. The second set had the two even at every point and head to the tiebreaker, where Mateas held a 2-1 lead before Hiltzik captured six of the final seven points. Mateas’ record dips to 14-7 and 2-3 in dual matches.
On court five, the Fighting Illini tied the match at 3-3 as Julian Childers defeated Furman 6-4, 0-6, 6-4. Furman led 3-0 in the first set before Childers answered with three straight wins to even it at 3-3 and 4-4 before taking the final two. Furman answered in the second set with six straight. The third set was tied at 2-2 before Childers got the break he needed to edge ahead. Furman was within a game two more times but could never break back to tie the set. Furman falls to 9-3 overall and 3-2 in dual matches.
Duke completes the weekend with a Sunday 2:30 p.m. match at No. 9 Northwestern.
No. 17 Illinois 4, Duke 3
February 3, 2017 at Champaign, Ill. (Atkins Tennis Center)
1. Catalin Mateas/Vincent Lin (DU) def. Gui Gomes/Aron Hiltzik (ILL) 6-2
2. Nick Stachowiak/Spencer Furman (DU) def. Vuk Budic/Alex Jesse (ILL) 7-5
3. Aleks Vukic/Aleks Kovacevic (ILL) vs. Robert Levine/Ryan Dickerson (DU) 5-5, unfinished
1. Aleks Vukic (ILL) def. Vincent Lin (DU) 6-4, 6-1
2. #85 Aron Hiltzik (ILL) def. Catalin Mateas (DU) 6-4, 7-6 (3)
3. #100 Gui Gomes (ILL) def. Robert Levine (DU) 6-3, 6-7 (6), 7-5
4. Nick Stachowiak (DU) def. #85 Aleks Kovacevic (ILL) 6-2, 6-4
5. Julian Childers (ILL) def. Spencer Furman (DU) 6-4, 0-6, 6-4
6. TJ Pura (DU) def. Zeke Clark (ILL) 6-3, 6-3
Illinois 2-1; National ranking #17
Order of finish: Doubles (1,2); Singles (1,4,6,2,5,3)