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Women's tennis to host NCAA opener

The fourth-ranked Duke women's tennis team (19-4) looks to rebound from their ACC tournament loss when they host Furman (18-8), 22nd-ranked Illinois (17-5) and 36th-ranked William & Mary (19-12) in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament this weekend.

The Blue Devils, seeded seventh in the tournament, host Furman in the first game. Though the Paladins may play in a lesser conference, head coach Jamie Ashworth is not taking anything for granted against their first-round opponents.

"They play a lot of the SEC and ACC schools," Ashworth said. "A lot of times in the first round matches we have been able to win on intimidation, but Furman will not be intimidated by us."

In addition to fighting Furman in the first round, however, Ashworth and the Blue Devils are also concerned about fighting rust. Duke has not played a match in 34 days, their longest hiatus of the season.

"[Not playing for 34 days] is a huge concern going into the match," Ashworth said. "All three teams [in our draw] have had matches more recently than that."

The layoff has sparked concerns about the Blue Devils' readiness for the NCAA tournament. As Ashworth explained, it is difficult to keep in match form without any games to play.

"We played some sets with UNC," Ashworth said. "[But matches are] hard to simulate.... I expect we will see a little struggle under pressure."

Furman, however, may provide the perfect cure for any possible Blue Devils hangover. Despite their impressive record and schedule, the Paladins are unable to match Duke's depth and ability.

"For us, it is a great first round matchup," Ashworth commented. "We are going to have to play well. But at the same time, we are more talented."

Talented, indeed. Duke sports four women on the all-ACC team, including senior Amanda Johnson. The Bettendorf, Iowa, native is just the ninth player in program history to garner All-ACC honors all four years at Duke, posting a staggering 27-4 career ACC record. Currently ranked as the eighth-best singles player nationally, Johnson has asserted herself as one of the nation's top players countless times. Perhaps most impressively, she knocked off the nation's top player, Alexis Gordon of Florida, in straight sets on April 8.

Complimenting Johnson are her fellow all-ACC selections Saras Arasu, a junior, and freshmen Tory Zawacki and Jennifer Zika. The three have combined for an impressive 63-31 singles record. Additionally, Duke's top doubles team of Zawacki and Johnson is ranked ninth nationally, including two victories over No. 1 seeds this fall at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-American and ITA Indoors competitions.

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