Coming off a tough weekend out west in the Freeman Memorial Championships, Duke was hungry for a few dual-match wins in the friendly confines of Sheffield Tennis Center. Facing a full plate of capable opponents, the Blue Devils had more than enough appetite for the task.
Duke swept Columbia Friday and Kentucky Saturday to win the ITA Kick-Off Weekend event and advance to National Team Indoors, which will be held in two weeks in Charlottesville, Va. The No. 10 Blue Devils remain undefeated in dual-match competition this spring.
“I liked that we competed for points and fought for points,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “We have to throw out our No. 10 ranking and understand that whenever we play, people are going to play their best against us.”
On both days, the Blue Devils (3-0) used strong doubles play to gain the early advantage, and from there, the squad didn’t look back.
In Duke's second victory of the weekend, sophomore Beatrice Capra and senior Hanna Mar, playing at No. 1 doubles for the second consecutive match, took the first three games and cruised to a 6-2 win against Kentucky’s Kelsey Dieters and CeCe Witten, ranked No. 56 in the country. After falling into an early 2-0 deficit, the Blue Devil tandem of senior Marianne Jodoin and freshman Alyssa Smith raced back to claim a 6-4 win against Kirsten Lewis and Stephanie Fox.
Singles was a tougher task for the Blue Devils, who were tested for the first time in team competition this year by the Wildcats (3-1), who knocked off Tulane 4-1 Friday. Duke took four of the six opening sets, and the Blue Devils rode the strength of their depth to a 4-0 sweep.
It took Jodoin four sets to lose a game this weekend, but she had to battle back from a 4-1 deficit in the second set Saturday to knock off Taylor Lederman 6-0, 7-5 at the fifth singles position. Moments later, Smith notched her second win of the weekend, topping Caitlin McGraw 6-2, 6-3 at fourth singles to give Duke a 3-0 lead.
The Blue Devils had a number of candidates in the running to claim the fourth and final point, but ultimately it was junior Ester Goldfeld—the two-time reigning ACC Player of the Week and 45th-ranked singles player—who clinched it for Duke. She dropped the first set 6-3 to Kentucky’s Dieters before roaring back to take the second set 6-1. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native cruised to a 10-5 win in the super-tiebreaker.
Even without freshman Chalena Scholl and junior Annie Mulholland in the singles lineup this weekend, the Blue Devils were able to thrive, a testament to the talent on the roster.
“We decided [Saturday] morning that Chalena wasn’t going to play today, and we decided after doubles that Annie wasn’t going to play,” Ashworth said. “To have that, which is something we haven’t had [in the past]—it gives us a lot of flexibility.”
Duke had a tougher task claiming the opening point Friday against a Columbia (1-1) team that boasted two top-25 doubles squads. Jodoin and Smith cruised 6-1 against Tiana Takenaga and Ioana Alecsiu, but Mulholland and Goldfeld dropped the final two games in a tight 7-5 affair to the 20th-ranked duo in the nation, Crystal Leung and Tina Jiang.
Mar and Capra battled Columbia’s Bianca Sanon and Kanika Vaidya, ranked No. 24 nationally, to decide the doubles point. Duke served to stay in the match twice, and the Blue Devils ultimately forced a tiebreaker. Once there, they squeezed out the final three points to notch a 7-4 win and give Duke the 1-0 lead.
“[Mar and Capra] didn’t play much together in the fall, so they’re not in the rankings, but they’re definitely one of the top teams in the country,” Ashworth said. “We know that we can win doubles… but we just have to be smart with our decision-making,”
In singles, Duke jumped out to one-set advantages in all six matches and claimed points at fourth, fifth and sixth singles.
Duke got a major shot in the arm with the return of senior Rachel Kahan. Playing in the sixth position, Kahan took the court for her first singles match since returning from Tommy John surgery. Kahan knocked off Alecsiu 6-2, 6-1 with relative ease.
“For her to come out and play back-to-back days when she hasn’t played in literally 17 months, it’s a really positive thing for our team,” Ashworth said. “It’s big for her and it’s big for our whole program.”
Smith knocked off Leung 6-1, 6-1 at fourth singles, and Jodoin managed a 6-0, 6-0 victory against Takenaga in the fifth slot to clinch the match for Duke.
With the wins, the Blue Devils have built some momentum, but perhaps more importantly, they’ve learned a valuable lesson about the battles they’ll face throughout the year.
“No matter who we play—it doesn’t matter if it’s Stanford or Kentucky or Furman next week… we have to know that people want to beat us,” Ashworth said.