The Blue Devils’ injury-laden squad will start off Wednesday’s match with a severe disadvantage to the No. 1 team in the nation, North Carolina (21-2, 7-1 in the ACC). For its fourth match in a row, Duke (14-6, 5-3) will be forced to concede one doubles match and a singles point off the bat since they only have five healthy players to take the court.
“At the end of the day, tennis is an individual sport,” Blue Devil head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “The people that are out there have to take care of what they need to take care of to win matches. It’s tough and it’s not an ideal situation but that’s what we have. And we just have to go out there and as individuals be the best we can be on the court to make our team better.”
The No. 11 Blue Devils are coming off a split trip to the Sunshine State last weekend. Duke beat No. 30 Florida State 4-3 Friday but fell to No. 10 Miami 4-0 Sunday. The Tarheels swept through Florida last weekend, picking up 5-2 wins against both Florida State and Miami.
The Blue Devils are led by Hanna Mar, who boasts a 7-5 singles record in dual matches this season. The junior currently ranks No. 25 in the nation in the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings. Duke also has three other players ranked in the poll, including sophomore Ester Goldfeld, senior Mary Clayton and junior Marianne Jodoin at 56th, 101st and 107th, respectively.
“It has definitely been a new experience for [Mar] playing at the number one spot,” Ashworth said. “She makes you hit that extra ball and plays every point like it’s the last point. She runs down balls and doesn’t just give anyone a point which wears on an opponent.... She will stay on the court for hours if she has to.”
The Tarheels have five players included in the ITA rankings, highlighted by No. 7 Gina Suarez-Malaguit. She is 12-4 on the season at the number one singles position and 6-1 in ACC play.
North Carolina will celebrate senior day Wednesday when it takes on Duke. The Blue Devils and the Tarheels have a 73-match history and Duke has the edge with a 43-30 record.
“[Playing North Carolina] is always an emotional match,” Ashworth said. “It’s always going to be a dog fight because we are so familiar with each other and each others’ players. The longer we can make the match last, the better.”
Wednesday’s matchup against North Carolina marks one of the Blue Devils’ last contests before the ACC tournament next weekend. After taking on the Tarheels, Duke will travel to Maryland and Boston College this weekend.
“We just have to make sure that we are staying disciplined,” Ashworth said. “In the matches that have gotten away from us, we have tried to be better than we need to be. If we can be ourselves, that’s all we can ask for. That goes for tomorrow and the last two this weekend.... We have great leadership and the girls all believe in each other and believe in themselves. We need to come out and give 100 percent effort Wednesday.”