Elon Men’s Tennis Upsets No. 7 Duke in Dual Match Opener

DURHAM, N.C. – With its back against the wall, the Elon University tennis team rallied to upset the seventh-ranked Duke Blue Devils in both teams’ opening dual match of the season Friday, Jan. 17, inside the Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center.

Trailing 3-1 after three singles matches, the Phoenix, ranked No. 64 in the country, picked up wins from Jordan Kaufman and Cameron Silverman to pull even with the Blue Devils before Brian Kowalski held off a hard-charging Raphael Hemmeler to secure the upset.

“From the first point to the last point, we played with a lot of heart,” said Elon head coach Michael Leonard. “Duke is a class group of guys and that’s not an easy loss for them. Hats off to them for being a class act. But we had some guys step up today and I’m just so proud of the way they put themselves in an opportunity to win and followed through on it. This is a special moment we’ll always remember.”

The win marks the highest-ranked opponent Elon has beat since transitioning to Division I action in 2000. The previous best was a 2007 victory at then-No. 37 South Carolina. It’s also the second win in program history against an ACC program and the first win in seven tries against Duke. Elon’s only other win against an ACC school came in a 5-0 sweep of Boston College, also in 2007.

Kaufman started the rally by picking up a three-set win on court No. 6. The junior had to rally for the win after dropping the first set in a tiebreaker by sweeping Cale Hammond in the second set and holding on to win the third set, 6-3.

Silverman, ranked No. 25 in the country, made quick work of Jason Tahir, the 52nd-ranked player in the nation, in the third set with a 6-1 win after the two split the first opening sets. Silverman was one of two Elon players to win his first set, as the senior won 6-5 before dropping the second set, 3-6.

Kowalski was the other Elon player to win his respective first set, as the junior beat Hemmeler 6-3 before dropping the second set, 6-2. Kowalski had a 5-2 lead in the third set that quickly became a 5-all tie after Hemmeler broke Kowalski to force a tiebreaker, but Kowalski held on for the win.

“That may sound like a big lead but when you’re in a tough environment like that, it’s not easy,” Leonard said. “Brian was so composed. He didn’t get rattled.”

The only other singles match to go all three sets was on court No. 3 where Robert Lindgren fell to No. 95 Bruno Semenzato, 0-6, 6-3, 0-6.

Stefan Fortmann and Juan Madrid both suffered two-set losses, as Fred Saba made quick work of Fortmann, 6-2, 6-1, and Josh Levine, ranked No. 77 in the country, topped Madrid, 6-3, 6-2.

The Phoenix opened the match by picking up what turned out to be a crucial doubles point. Silverman and Fortmann dropped a tightly contested set on court No. 1, but Lindgren and Kowalski finished shortly after and picked up a 6-4 victory on Hemmeler and Semenzato. Hemmeler and Semenzato fell into an early hole against the Elon duo but fought back to even the set. The late surge was not enough, though, as Lindgren and Kowalski finished off the set for the win.

With the pressure on Madrid and Kaufman on court No. 3, the pair battled Hammond and Daniel McCall to a 5-all tie before taking the tiebreaker to win the set, 6-5(5), and the point for the Phoenix. Madrid and Kaufman had to battle back from an early multi-game hole to top McCall and Hammond.

The Phoenix looks to build on the upset when they return to the courts Jan. 24-25 in Charlottesville, Va. in the ITA Kickoff Weekend tournament against the nation’s top-ranked team, the Virginia Cavaliers. Virginia has five players in the ITA singles rankings, including the nation’s No. 3 player, Mitchell Frank.