Following winter break, Duke had only six practices to get ready for its first match of the season. As it turned out, that was plenty of time.
The No. 10 Blue Devils walloped William & Mary Sunday afternoon at Sheffield Tennis Center 6-1, with appearances from new and old faces alike sparking the victory and exciting head coach Jamie Ashworth.
“It was good to get Rachel [Kahan] out on the court—she hadn’t played a competitive match in almost two years,” Ashworth said. “For [Beatrice] Capra to get back on the court after missing last spring was big, and for us to have some options was exciting from a coaching standpoint.”
Kahan, playing in her first match after returning from a torn rotator cuff, played third doubles and served out the match for Duke to garner the team's first doubles victory. Capra, who missed last season due to academic violations, played alongside senior Hanna Mar as the Blue Devils' No. 2 doubles team.
Whether players were returning or debuting in a Duke uniform, one theme was constant: seizing control from the get-go. In all eight completed matches, the Blue Devils took the first set.
The first two singles points were clinched seconds apart, as Blue Devils notched the elusive double bagel at both the No. 3 and No. 5 singles positions. Marianne Jodoin tallied the first point for Duke in the fifth singles slot, beating William & Mary’s Sydney Smith 6-0, 6-0. Chalena Scholl, the highly-touted Blue Devil freshman playing in her first collegiate dual match, wielded her howitzer forehand with impunity in a shutout victory against Melanie Roy.
“With Chalena, that was the first singles match she’s played in college…[It was good] for her to come out and hit to big targets and be smart with her decision-making,” Ashworth said. “She hits the ball so hard—she hits the ball harder than anyone on our team, and if she can control that pace and use that pace to her advantage, she’ll be a great player.”
Duke's other freshman, Alyssa Smith, clinched the victory for the Blue Devils by cruising to a 6-2, 6-0 win against Julia Casselbury in the sixth singles position.
Life at the top of the ladder was slightly trickier for Duke, but its ranked players still claimed definitive victories. Playing at first singles in place of her doubles partner, Capra, Mar—the 49th-ranked singles player in the nation—cruised against William & Mary's top player, No. 65 Maria Belaya, 6-2, 6-2. On the court beside her, No. 45 Ester Goldfeld, playing second singles, knocked off No. 89 Leeza Nemchinov in routine fashion, 6-2, 6-2.
After playing second doubles earlier in the day, Capra, who enters the 2014 season as the third-ranked singles player in the country, received rest during singles as Ashworth looked to explore the depth of his roster.
“We’re not going to play the same lineup every time,” Ashworth said. “We’re going to give different people different opportunities in different positions…and we’re fortunate right now to have a little bit of depth to be able to do that.”
In the most competitive singles match of the day, Duke's Annie Mulholland and William & Mary's Nabila Farah battled to a stalemate in the first two sets, with Mulholland winning the first 6-4 before Farah grabbed the second by an identical score. As per the ITA initiative during the 2014 indoor season, the competitors played a deciding 10-point tiebreaker in lieu of a third set. Despite battling back from an early 1-4 deficit and saving a match point while trailing 9-8, Mulholland eventually fell 11-9 in the tiebreaker.
Doubles had been a concern for Ashworth entering the season, but Duke clinched the first point of the season when its first and third doubles squads won within minutes of each other. Jodoin and Kahan first polished off William & Mary’s Casselbury and Roy 6-1. The Blue Devils' first doubles team of Mulholland and Goldfeld, ranked 14th in the country, raced out to a 5-1 lead before holding on for a 6-3 victory over the Tribe’s Belaya and Nemchinov.
Duke’s second doubles team of Capra and Mar was leading Farah and Sydney Smith 4-3 when the doubles point was clinched.
“I think with our doubles we competed well, but I think we have to be more aggressive and hit the ball harder, and not just look to get balls in play,” Ashworth said. “We play a tournament out in Las Vegas this week, and I think we have to be more aggressive.”
Although there is room for improvement, Ashworth was certain of one thing Sunday.
“To get out there and [play against actual competition] was definitely exciting for us—to get the season going,” he said.