After a shaky end to an otherwise-stellar season, the Blue Devils enter postseason play in uncharted territory—looking to bounce back from their first losing streak of the season.
Back-to-back losses to end the regular season dropped Duke—which held the top spot in the nation for five consecutive weeks—to No. 6 in the national rankings and the fifth seed in the ACC tournament. The Blue Devils will play at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Cary Tennis Park in Cary, N.C., and will face the winner of the previous day’s matchup between 12th-seeded Maryland and 13th-seeded Wake Forest.
“There’s nothing we can do about the losses now except move forward and try to get better,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “We were hoping not to have to go to four straight days of the ACC tournament, but we have to play with what we were dealt, and so we’ll be ready to play.”
In its two closest matches since a 4-3 win against UCLA Feb. 10, Duke lost 4-3 to then-No. 17 Clemson and Georgia Tech to bid farewell to regular-season competition. Before the losses, the Blue Devils (21-3, 11-3 in the ACC) had claimed the doubles point in every match but one. Duke dropped the doubles points in both of its recent losses.
“We were a little disappointed with our doubles this weekend—we hadn’t lost a doubles point since early February,” Ashworth said. “We were just too defensive, and I think if we can get back that attacking mindset and put ourselves in a good position after the doubles, we’re going to be as tough as anybody to beat.”
The Blue Devils cruised to easy wins against both Maryland (9-12, 4-10) and Wake Forest (11-12, 3-11) when the teams met earlier in the season. The Terrapins were shut out on their home court against Duke, but bested the Demon Deacons in their contest after claiming the doubles point and first three singles matches to seal the day’s win.
“[We just have to] worry about ourselves,” Ashworth said. “We had good matches against both of them early in the year, and so I’m more concerned with making sure we’re in the right frame of mind and having the right attitude and the right purpose when we walk on the court rather than who we play.”
With a win Thursday, Duke will have a chance for revenge in the following round of the tournament with a matchup against Clemson, which received the No. 4 seed and a bye to the quarterfinals.
Before their two season-ending losses, the Blue Devils were poised to claim one of the top two seeds heading into the conference tournament, with just one ACC loss to Virginia at the end of February.
“When we’ve been playing our best all year, we’ve been playing to… prove something and not to protect something,” Ashworth said. “We have nothing to protect… so we need to go into this with a mindset of making a statement as to where we’ve been through the year, and that’s being one of the best teams in the country.”