After squandering several opportunities to put away her opponent, freshman Kaitlyn McCarthy relied on a comeback to win her first career NCAA singles tournament match.
Down 6-3 in a third-set tiebreak and facing three match points, No. 55 McCarthy won four straight points before defeating No. 64 Kimmy Guerin of Wake Forest 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (9-7) in the first round of the NCAA singles championship at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center in Tulsa, Okla.
With the win, McCarthy ended a streak during which she lost five straight singles matches that went to completion.
“The end of that match had nothing to do with tennis,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth told GoDuke.com. “It was more mental and physical. When [Kaitlyn] was down 6-3 in the tiebreaker, she hit some good balls, and I think she just thought, ‘Okay, I’m just going to go for it, and see what happens.'"
McCarthy and Guerin struggled to seize control and maintain momentum in the opening set. After staying on serve for the first two games, they each broke each other twice to even the set at 4-4 and then split the next four games to force a tiebreak. McCarthy fell behind 4-2 in the tiebreak, but won five of the next six points before claiming the set.
Guerin quickly responded in the second set, winning five of the first seven games. However, McCarthy fought back and had her first chance to end the match after she won four straight games to take a 6-5 lead. Once Guerin tied the set, McCarthy had a second opportunity to close out the contest with the tiebreak locked at 5-5, but Guerin took the final two points and evened the match.
In the third set, McCarthy and Guerin both registered early breaks and remained tied at 2-2. After McCarthy broke and held serve to take a 4-2 advantage, Guerin responded by winning the next three games. Although McCarthy once again battled back, capturing the next two games, she failed to capitalize on an opportunity to hold serve and seal the victory, and Guerin forced another tiebreak.
McCarthy struggled from the outset of the final tiebreak. The Cary, N.C., native initially lost four of the first five points before trailing 6-3, but immediately rebounded and fought off the match points en route to the victory.
“[Kaitlyn] had to push through it and was really tired at the end of those,” Ashworth said. “That match reminded me a lot of the conditioning we’ve been doing over the last three weeks, where there’s a lot more distance-based track work.”
McCarthy will return to the court for her Round of 32 match against No. 13 Jasmine Lee of Mississippi State Thursday at 1 p.m.