DURHAM, N.C. - The Duke men's tennis team claimed its first victory over Illinois in 10 years, sweeping the 19th-ranked Illini by a 7-0 score Friday evening in front of a large crowd in the Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center. With the win, the 10th-ranked Blue Devils improved to 4-0 in dual match play.
"I feel like there were a lot of standout performances," said head coach Ramsey Smith. "[Illinois] is a team that's given us some problems for a bunch of years now ... It was a really good team win."
Duke captured the doubles point for the third consecutive match, taking a 1-0 lead with wins on all three courts.
In the No. 2 doubles contest, senior David Holland and sophomore Chris Mengel jumped out to a 5-3 advantage against Illinois' Tim Kopinski and Ross Guignon on their way to an 8-6 victory. The Duke tandem improved to 3-1 in dual match play with the win while remaining undefeated on the year at the No. 2 spot with a 3-0 ledger.
Junior Henrique Cunha and sophomore Fred Saba traded games with Dennis Nevolo and Farris Gosea on court one before the Blue Devil duo grabbed a key break to take a 7-6 lead. Cunha and Saba then served it out for the 8-6 win, with Saba bending a backhand just inside the line at match point to secure the doubles point for Duke.
On court three, senior Torsten Wietoska and freshman Raphael Hemmeler fell behind the Illini's Bruno Abdelnour and Stephen Hoh, 7-4, before winning three straight games and the tiebreak for an 8-7 (3) victory, their third of the spring.
No. 120 Hemmeler led the Blue Devils off the courts in singles play, improving to 3-0 in dual match play with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Kopinski at the No. 5 position. Fellow rookie Jason Tahir followed with a 6-4, 6-4 win against Gosea on court six, extending Duke's lead to 3-0.
"I was really pleased with the freshmen," Smith said. "It was an intense atmosphere, and both of them stepped up and got off the court really quickly."
Saba remained undefeated on the season from the No. 4 singles spot, defeating Abdelnour by scores of 6-1, 7-5 to clinch the match for the Blue Devils. The sophomore, ranked No. 110 in the latest ITA poll, is now 4-0 in dual match singles play.
Wietoska dropped the first set of his No. 3 singles match to the Illini's Hoh, but responded with a strong showing in the second two sets to post a 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory. On court two, 17th-ranked Mengel edged No. 24 Roy Kalmanovich 7-5 in the first set before losing a hard-fought tiebreak in the second set. However, the Duke sophomore cruised to a 10-1 win in the third set tiebreak to collect his sixth victory over a ranked opponent this season. Mengel also improved to 4-0 on the year from the No. 2 singles position.
Seventh-ranked and two-time ACC Player of the Week Cunha was equally as impressive in his No. 1 singles matchup against second-ranked Nevolo of Illinois. Nevolo edged Cunha, 7-5, in the first set, but Cunha rolled to a 6-1 win in the second set to force a third set tiebreak. The two players traded points in the tiebreak before Cunha emerged with a 10-7 victory to upend Nevolo and seal the 7-0 sweep for Duke.
"I knew the first set was going to be hard," Cunha said. "I started the second set breaking [Nevolo], and that was very good momentum."
The Jaú, Brazil native is now 4-0 this spring at the top spot in the lineup, and 9-3 against ranked opponents with two of those wins coming over higher-ranked players.
A crowd of over 675 fans filled Sheffield for the match, adding excitement to the Blue Devils' first victory over Illinois in 10 matches dating back to the 2002 season.
"The crowd was awesome," Smith said. "I think the guys really fed off the crowd, especially at the end of doubles. And then midway through the singles, I just felt like the crowd gave us a boost there."
Duke improved to 4-0 on the season while Illinois dropped to 4-2 overall. The Blue Devils return to the Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center on Sunday, Feb. 5 when they host No. 30 Notre Dame at 12 p.m. and NC Central at 5 p.m. in a doubleheader.
Tennis Match Results Illinois vs Duke Feb 03, 2012 at Durham, N.C. (Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center)