Duke will take a quick break from ACC play by squaring off against another familiar and challenging foe.
Looking for their eighth straight win, the top-ranked Blue Devils will face No. 9 Northwestern Wednesday. The Wildcats will enter Wednesday's contest fresh off a loss to No. 10 North Carolina Tuesday and will make a stop at the Sheffield Indoor Tennis center at 2 p.m. on their road trip through the Tar Heel state.
“We always have a good match with [Northwestern],” head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “They compete really well and are very well-coached. They don’t give you a lot of free points, so we are definitely looking forward to it.”
Although the Blue Devils and Northwestern do not compete in conference play, there is definitely a level of familiarity between the two teams. Duke has squared off with the Wildcats every year since 2002 and has not lost to Northwestern since 2009.
The Blue Devils (15-1) boast three ranked singles players and are led by sophomore Beatrice Capra, ranked No. 5 in the country. Junior Ester Goldfeld and senior Hanna Mar—ranked 24th and 31st, respectively—will hold down the second and third singles positions for Duke.
Northwestern’s highest-ranked singles player is No. 36 Belinda Niu. The Wildcats (9-4) have two other players ranked nationally in the top 125.
One of the keys for Duke will be its doubles play. The Blue Devils have lost the doubles point just once this season and have captured the doubles point in each of their past six matches.
Duke has showcased its versatility throughout doubles play this season. Despite playing just three doubles matches per contest, the Blue Devils boast five nationally-ranked doubles pairings.
“Northwestern has really good doubles, and we are just talking about how we need to be really clean with our doubles and not throw points away and be really clean with our decision making,” Ashworth said. “That is something these last couple days we have been stressing and trying to work on.”
After a 6-0 shutout victory against Florida State Sunday, Duke did not have to spend time at practice this week correcting mistakes. Instead, the Blue Devils were able to focus on their next opponent.
"We just try to put ourselves in competitive situations and figure out different ways to put pressure on ourselves in practice, so we can practice like we would play a match," Ashworth said.
Turning up the heat in practice could help Duke stay fresh after a few days off from match play. Taking on a Northwestern team that played a match just the night before, Ashworth said that the difference in recovery time has the ability to help or hurt his team.
“You can go both ways,” he said. “You can look at it like they don’t get a day of rest but also if they play well they come in with momentum. We know they play today, but that is not something that is concerning to us in either way.”
Entering the home stretch of its schedule, Duke's match against Northwestern could be the team's last against a top-10 opponent before next month's ACC tournament.
“It is definitely one of the tougher matches of what is left of our schedule and it is another opportunity for us to kind of prove how good of a team we can be,” Ashworth said. “It is just going to be a great match for both programs.”