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Duke women's tennis set to face Purdue in first round of NCAA tournament

Ester Goldfeld and the Blue Devils will look to avoid the sluggish start that plagued them in their ACC tournament loss to Georgia Tech Saturday against Purdue.
Ester Goldfeld and the Blue Devils will look to avoid the sluggish start that plagued them in their ACC tournament loss to Georgia Tech Saturday against Purdue.

With two weeks of preparation and training under its belt, Duke is ready to start fast in its most important match of the season.

The No. 20 Blue Devils will begin the NCAA tournament against Purdue Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga. Although Duke is not hosting a tournament regional after a narrow 4-3 defeat against Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament, the Blue Devils are in a familiar place and prepared to continue their past success in the NCAA tournament.

"It’s a long break in between matches for us, but we’re excited to have the opportunity to play against someone else. Our girls are sick of playing against each other for two weeks," Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. "We’ve played a ton of matches [at the Dan Magill Complex]. They’ve had NCAAs here a bunch and so our girls are pretty familiar with this place.”

Purdue (14-8) had its up and downs throughout the regular season, including an early eight-match winning streak that included victories against Arkansas and Indiana. The Boilermakers' latest win came against Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament, but their dreams of a conference tournament title came to an end at the hands of then-No. 18 Ohio State.

Purdue’s success is predicated on its doubles play. The Boilermakers are dangerous with an early advantage, boasting a 13-2 record when they capture the doubles point. But if the Blue Devils can steal the first point of the match, they could throw Purdue out of rhythm, as the Boilermakers are just 1-6 when trailing heading into singles play.

Ashworth said he will not make any changes to the Duke doubles lineup after a poor performance against the Yellow Jackets set the stage for the quarterfinal loss. Duke’s 36th-ranked tandem featuring junior Beatrice Capra and freshman Samantha Harris will likely face the No. 59 Purdue duo of Daniela Vidal and Tess Bernard-Feigenbaum. Senior Ester Goldfeld and sophomore Alyssa Smith and the 71st-ranked pair of senior Annie Mulholland and sophomore Chalena Scholl will complete the Blue Devils’ doubles rotation.

“We have to get off to a good start with our doubles," Ashworth said. "[We can’t] let Purdue hang around and believe that they can win. And that starts from the moment we walk on the court for the first doubles match. We have to have that attitude that we want to take care of what we need to do and get off the court.”

But the doubles point will not be enough against the Boilermakers.

The Blue Devils (16-9) cannot fall behind early in their singles matches, another issue that caused Duke problems against Georgia Tech. Bernard-Feigenbaum—an All-Big Ten selection who is 20-4 this spring—leads an experienced and formidable Boilermakers singles lineup featuring four juniors and seniors and no freshmen.

“It’s something that we’ve definitely talked about and been focusing on, the beginning of games and the beginning of sets,” Ashworth said. “Not making a lot of mental mistakes early in the game and early in the sets and being smart and being disciplined at those times [is key].”

With a win against the Boilermakers, Duke will face the winner of No. 7 Georgia and Charleston Southern Sunday.