Blue Devil women's tennis comeback attempts fall short against Virginia in ACC Championship finalsIt almost happened again.
For the second straight day, Hanna Mar found a way to claw back from a 5-3 hole in the third set to force a tiebreaker. And with teammate Beatrice Capra serving for the win in the No. 1 singles match and the Blue Devils trailing Virginia 3-2, Mar ‘s comeback effort had the potential to help seal the win.
But this time the magic ran out on the Duke senior.
Although Mar had even earned two match points prior to the tiebreaker, Cavalier Stephanie Nauta proved too much for the Blue Devil as she defeated Mar 7-3 in the tiebreaker and give her squad a 4-2 victory in Virginia’s first-ever ACC Championship appearance.
“I said it yesterday too. She’s the one we want to have out there,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “She’s been great for us for four years coming through in those types of situations. Stephanie played a little more aggressive tiebreaker than Hanna did, and Hanna will learn from it.”
As she did in her match Saturday against North Carolina’s Caroline Price, Mar dropped the first set to Nauta 6-3 and found a way to come back after giving up a break in the third set.
This time, however, Mar almost avoided having to go to the tiebreaker at all. Leading 6-5, Mar fell behind 40-0 on Nauta’s serve but won four consecutive points to earn a match-point opportunity off-service. Mar failed to clinch the match there but won the next point to earn another shot at clinching the win.
Mar and Nauta rallied, and Nauta hit a deep shot down the right side. As she struck a return, Mar called the ball out but was overruled by the umpire.
“Hanna’s not the one that you question her line calls,” Ashworth said. “She firmly believed that the ball was out, so she calls it out.”
Mar did not get back to another match point after that, leaving both her comeback and her team’s just short.
The Blue Devils (24-4) started the day behind 1-0 after dropping both the No. 2 and No. 3 doubles matches. In Duke’s first matchup against Virginia (21-5) Feb. 21, the Blue Devils won the doubles point but dropped five of six singles matches—making it the team's only loss this year after winning the doubles point.
The singles portion did not start out promising for Duke, either. Mar, Ester Goldfeld and Chalena Scholl all dropped their respective first sets, and Capra—the nation’s seventh-ranked singles player—trailed 5-0 in the first set against No. 4 Julia Elbaba.
Goldfeld, who was limited due to illness last week, fell in straight sets, but Scholl and Capra came back. Scholl went on to shut Rachel Pierson out of the second set then win the third 6-2 to tie the match at 2-2.
“We’re down a couple sets, we’re down 5-0 on one and we did a good job battling back and making it a match, and I think that says a lot about the resolve of our girls and their determination,” Ashworth said.
In her sixth game, Capra fell behind 0-30 and then 30-40 but battled back and earned a deuce point. A double fault from Elbaba gave Capra a chance to get back in the match and the Duke sophomore capitalized—reeling off eight straight wins to take the set and first game of the second set.
“My opponent was playing really well to start out for me to go down 5-0, and I just kept telling myself I just really wanted to do well for this team,” Capra said. “I eventually got it together and just fought my way back”
Duke’s comebacks, however, did not provide enough firepower to keep its hopes of a second championship in three years alive. Virginia, which had a bye into the quarterfinals of the tournament and lost only one point in its two matches heading into the final, outlasted the Blue Devils as Maci Epstein beat Duke’s Alyssa Smith 6-7, 6-4, 6-1 and Nauta finished off Mar.
But Mar said she views the team’s tournament performance as an important part of Duke’s preparation for the NCAA tournament.
“We played a lot of matches in a row, and we fought through well,” she said. “That’s the same with the tournament… to play your best for a lot of days in a row [is key].”
Although their come-from-behind bid for a championship fell short, the Blue Devils still believe they showed what they can do in the postseason.
“Every girl on this team just has so much fight,” Capra said. “Everybody knows that when we step on the court it’s going to be really tough to beat us.”