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Duke women's tennis gears up for road tests to wind down regular season

The Blue Devils will play Georgia Tech and Clemson before the ACC tournament starts next week

<p>Freshman Kaitlyn McCarthy lost for the first time on court one this season Tuesday against N.C. State and will try to bounce back this weekend against Georgia Tech and Clemson.</p>

Freshman Kaitlyn McCarthy lost for the first time on court one this season Tuesday against N.C. State and will try to bounce back this weekend against Georgia Tech and Clemson.

After playing without its lone senior on Senior Day, the Blue Devils will hit the road with a chance to stay hot before the ACC tournament. 

No. 8 Duke closes out its regular season this weekend with road matches at No. 16 Georgia Tech Friday at 3 p.m. at the Byers Tennis Complex in Atlanta before journeying to Clemson, S.C., to take on Clemson Sunday at noon at the Hoke Sloan Tennis Center. The Blue Devils enter the weekend finale having recorded back-to-back 6-1 victories against Boston College and N.C. State, but will face different challenges away from the friendly confines of Ambler Tennis Stadium.

“We have to go down and expect them to play a great match,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “We can’t expect them to give us one point. We have to have the mindset where we have to earn every single point we get. If we do that, no matter who is on the court for us, I’ll take my chances, no matter who is playing.”

The Blue Devils (17-4, 10-2 in the ACC) leave Durham uncertain whether they will be joined by senior leader Beatrice Capra. The 30th-ranked player in the country missed Duke's win against N.C. State Tuesday—her Senior Day—due to illness. No. 41 freshman Kaitlyn McCarthy stepped into Capra's spot at the top singles position, but fell for the first time this season on court one, dropping a three-set affair to No. 51 Martina Frantova.

Duke has secured the doubles point in five consecutive matches and will look to continue its run of early-match success behind the duo of McCarthy and sophomore Samantha Harris. The tandem is a perfect 7-0 in ACC play and is coming off a convincing 6-2 victory Tuesday against their Wolfpack counterparts. 

In singles action, the Blue Devils will hope to continue building momentum behind a group of players who are hitting their stride at the right time.

Harris became the first Duke player to reach double-digit singles wins in ACC play Tuesday and could stay in the No. 2 slot this weekend looking for her ninth consecutive victory. Freshman Jessica Ho comes into the weekend riding a five-match win streak of her own and will attempt to add to her 16 singles victories this season. After a slow start in conference play, freshman Ellyse Hamlin has hit her stride, looking to notch her third straight singles win against the Yellow Jackets.

But with the effects of a long season and a tight weekend travel schedule coming into play, the Blue Devils will have to be as prepared mentally as physically for the weekend matches.

“[We are focusing on] off-court preparations—making sure we are getting treatment, eating, sleeping and managing our schoolwork,” Hamlin said. “If we are all healthy, then it’s going to translate into playing better.”

Duke’s two opponents both enter playing some of their best tennis of the year. The Tigers (10-7, 8-4) have won two straight matches, while the Yellow Jackets have won their past three. Georgia Tech (15-6, 10-2) features a pair of top 50 singles players in No. 34 Johnisse Renaud and No. 49 Paige Hourigan. The Blue Devils will also face off against the No. 13 tandem of Hourigan and Kendal Woodard in doubles action—a pairing that has recorded 15 of its 20 victories at the top doubles spot this year. Duke boasts the 14th-ranked pairing of Capra and Hamlin, but it is unclear whether Capra will be ready for first serve Friday. Harris and McCarthy played on court one Tuesday against N.C. State.

Sunday’s match against Clemson will not be much easier for the Blue Devils even though the Tigers have struggled against top competition this season. No. 23 Joana Eidukonyte is 6-6 against nationally ranked players this season, and freshman Ayan Broomfield is a promising young player that has played most matches one court one and owns an 8-4 ledger against ACC opponents. The season finale will be Eidukonyte’s last home match, so Duke will have to deal with the added emotion of playing on an opponent’s Senior Day.

“Clemson is also not an easy place to play since the stands are right on the courts,” Ashworth said. “They are a very emotional team, and it’s their Senior Day, which is never an easy thing. If we can withstand that first wave of emotion and make them fight for every point they get and realize that we are not just going to roll over because it’s their Senior Day, I think we will be fine.”

With the ACC tournament kicking off Wednesday in nearby Cary, N.C., the Blue Devils enter the weekend in a three-way tie with Miami and Georgia Tech for second place in the conference. A victory against the Yellow Jackets could ensure Duke either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed for the tournament, which would mean avoiding top-seeded North Carolina until the championship match.

“The ACC tournament is next week. It’s what we play for—it’s what we run sprints for in September," Ashworth said. "We haven’t really talked about the tournament as a whole yet, but we have been constantly talking about it in terms of making sure we put ourselves in good position.”

Ali Wells contributed reporting.

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