In a match where singles play determines six out of seven points, the doubles point can often be overlooked. Duke, however, has placed special emphasis on developing teamwork.
No. 2 Duke (22-2, 11-0 ACC) has five individual players ranked in the top 100, more than any other school in the ACC. The Blue Devil’s dominance in singles play has carried them to their first ever perfect conference record as well as a number one seed in the upcoming ACC tournament.
If Duke wants to take home the conference crown this weekend, however, it will need to solidify another aspect of its game—doubles play—and truly play as a team.
“The doubles point is so important,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “For a team like us, if we can get off to a 1-0 lead and play good singles it is going to be hard to beat us.”
Singles play has been the most consistent part of Duke’s game. The team has amassed a 0.915 winning percentage in singles conference play. In comparison, the Blue Devils have a 0.727 winning percentage in doubles play.
When it comes to playing in tandems, however, consistency is not what the team’s primary goal.
“In the last week we have played some really good doubles,” Ashworth said. “Part of that is the spontaneity of changing the teams around. People get excited to play with each other and in different positions.”
Changing up the doubles teams has been Ashworth’s coaching philosophy throughout his 16 years at Duke. As the coach with the most wins in the ACC, it would be hard to argue that his ideology has not been successful.
This past weekend, the Blue Devils proved it, winning all but one of their nine doubles matches against three conference opponents. The highlight of their play was against conference rival North Carolina in a competition for the top spot in the ACC standings, in which junior Mary Clayton and freshman Ester Goldfeld took down the No. 2 pair of Shinann Featherston and Lauren McHale to clinch the doubles point.
“I think Ester and I have really progressed,” Clayton said. “We have definitely seen that in the last couple matches. I think it is getting better every match.”
Although the tandem’s teamwork has shown to be a great formula for success, Ashworth believes that there is another side to it.
“I think you can definitely get the chemistry,” he said. “But sometimes, it can also get a little stale.”
Consequently, he chooses a model in which players may find themselves with a different partner and on a different court in both practice and during matches. In doing so, Ashworth said he believes that everyone becomes more motivated to perform at a higher level.
“I want people to have the love for their teammate, to go out there and to be excited and pump each other up,” Ashworth said. “This group has handled it really well.”
Playing doubles at a high level is something that the team continues to work on, and it also puts a unique perspective on the sport.
“It is a lot different,” sophomore Rachel Kahan said. “You are playing for a team and not just for yourself. It is one of the most fun parts of college tennis.”
Unlike singles play, which is decided primarily on talent and mental toughness, doubles play requires a different set of skills.
“The first thing that we are looking for is good communication between the team,” Ashworth said. “It is definitely a different mindset than playing singles, but it makes it fun too and I think the girls have fun with it.”
In the ACC tournament this weekend, Ashworth’s formula will be put to the test yet again. The starting doubles lineup for Friday’s match will be Clayton and Goldfeld on court one, freshman Beatrice Capra and Kahan on court two and freshman Annie Mulholland and sophomore Hanna Mar on court three. These pairings, however, can change significantly match-to-match, as it has throughout the season.
“We are going to do what is best for us on that day,” Ashworth said. “We have been fortunate in that we have teams that can win in different positions.”
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