TEMPE, Ariz. – For the 15th time in the last 16 seasons, the Duke men’s tennis team opened the dual match portion of the schedule with a victory. The 25th-ranked Blue Devils welcomed Arizona State back to NCAA competition with a 5-2 triumph Saturday at the Whiteman Tennis Center with redshirt junior Nicolas Alvarez securing the match-winning point.
“It was a great college tennis match,” head coach Ramsey Smith said. “Obviously there was a lot of history behind today’s match. There was a lot of excitement here today. I was really proud of the way our guys handled it. I put them in a pretty difficult situation playing a talented team on the road in this type of environment for the first match of the year. Both teams fought extremely hard. I don’t think we could have handled it any better.”
With Saturday’s victory, Smith improved to 9-1 in season openers with Duke. The Blue Devils also improved to 36-15 (.706 winning percentage) in nonconference action in the last four-plus years.
Duke took the early lead on Saturday, capturing the doubles points with victories on courts two and three. The junior pairing of Ryan Dickerson and Jason Lapidus got the Blue Devils off to a quick start, winning 6-1 against Benjamin Hannestad and Tim Ruehl, who were ranked No. 53 in the Oracle/Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) poll, on court two.
Court one went to Arizona State with Michael Geerts and Makey Rakotomalala downing freshman Sean Sculley and sophomore Nick Stachowiak, 6-2. Duke answered with the winning point from court three with Alvarez and sophomore Spencer Furman topping Thomas Wright and Andrea Bolla, 6-3. After a 1-1 tie on court three, the Blue Devils took control with four straight victories to lead 5-1 before finishing off the set.
“We got off to a great start in doubles, winning at No. 2 and No. 3,” Smith said. “For Ryan and Jason to win 6-1 against a team that won an ITA Regional really set the tone for us. Then Spencer and Nicolas were able to finish it off. That was a great start for us, but we knew we had a lot of work left to do to finish it off in singles. ASU played some great tennis, especially in singles. There were lots of matches that went back and forth.”
Once in singles, the Sun Devils tied the match at 1-1 with a 6-4, 6-2 victory by Rakotomalala against Stachowiak on court four. ASU then took the lead at 2-1 overall as Hannestad, who starts the year at No. 44, fought past junior Catalin Mateas 7-5, 6-3 on court two.
Duke answered with three consecutive singles wins to clinch the match. The march began on court five with Sculley picking up a 6-3, 7-5 win against Bolla. Furman, who is standing at No. 81, gave Duke the lead back at 3-2 when he downed Ruehl 6-2, 6-2 on court three.
“I'm really proud of Sean,” Smith said of his team’s lone rookie. “We knew he was going to be a type of guy who really thrived in the dual match environment. He won a lot of deuce points, stepped up and looked extremely comfortable for a freshman. Spencer won 6-2, 6-2 today, but it was a lot closer than the score. He was awfully tough today. It was exciting to see him play at that level.”
Alvarez, ranked No. 48, secured the victory on court one, coming from behind to defeat No. 51 Geerts 4-6, 6-2, 6-3. In the opening set, the two were on serve until Geerts turned a 3-2 lead into a 5-3 advantage and held on to capture the set. Alvarez responded with 11 wins in the next 15 games to take the second set and lead 5-2 in the third. Geerts got a game back, but Alvarez served out for the victory.
“The Alvarez and Geerts match was really high level,” Smith said of the deciding contest. “Geerts came out on fire and played an unbelievable first set. Nicolas remained calm and mentally tough. That was an incredibly resilient effort for him, playing in a dual match for the first time since 2016. It was great to have him back on the court.”
In the final match of the day, Dickerson fought back in three sets to defeat Will Kirkman 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) on court six. After falling in the first set, Dickerson stormed back to take leads of 4-2 and 5-3 in the second set before forcing the deciding set. In the third set, Dickerson turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 advantage, but Kirkman fought back and knotted the set at 4-4. It was even at 5-5 and 6-6 before heading into the tiebreaker. Dickerson jumped out to a 3-1 lead, but Kirkman ripped off three straight points to go up 4-3. Dickerson buckled down and won four of the last five points for the victory.
Duke returns to action January 27-28 by continuing its road swing. The Blue Devils head to Fort Worth, Texas, to take part in the ITA Kick-Off Weekend. The squad takes on Louisville at 3 p.m. on Saturday, January 27, with host No. 10 TCU facing San Diego. The winners meet Sunday for the right to advance to the ITA National Men's Team Indoor Championship, held in Seattle, February 16-18.
#25 Duke 5, Arizona State 2
January 13, 2018 at Tempe, Ariz. (Whiteman Tennis Center)
1. Michael Geerts/Makey Rakotomalala (ASU) def. Nick Stachowiak/Sean Sculley (DU) 6-2
2. Ryan Dickerson/Jason Lapidus (DU) def. #53 Benjamin Hannestad/Tim Ruehl (ASU) 6-1
3. Nicolas Alvarez/Spencer Furman (DU) def. Thomas Wright/Andrea Bolla (ASU) 6-3
1. #48 Nicolas Alvarez (DU) def. #51 Michael Geerts (ASU) 4-6, 6-2, 6-3
2. #44 Benjamin Hannestad (ASU) def. Catalin Mateas (DU) 7-5, 6-3
3. #81 Spencer Furman (DU) def. Tim Ruehl (ASU) 6-2, 6-2
4. Makey Rakotomalala (ASU) def. Nick Stachowiak (DU) 6-4, 6-2
5. Sean Sculley (DU) def. Andrea Bolla (ASU) 6-3, 7-5
6. Ryan Dickerson (DU) def. Will Kirkman (ASU) 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5)
Arizona State 0-1
Duke 1-0; National ranking #25
Order of finish: Doubles (2,1,3); Singles (4,2,3,5,1,6)