For the second straight Sunday, No. 10 Duke and No. 23 Northwestern were tied at three with all eyes on a competitive tiebreaker.
And once again, the Blue Devils came out on top when junior Rebecca Smaller rallied from a 4-0 deficit in the second-set tiebreak to win 7-5, 7-6 (7-5) at Sheffield Tennis Center. The teams' matchup was almost identical to Duke's 4-3 win last week that booked a ticket to the national team indoor championships, with the Blue Devils losing the doubles point before the same group of four players notched singles victories, capped by a comeback from a 5-2 deficit in the last set of the match.
Smaller's match against Brooke Rischbieth appeared destined for a third set, but Smaller won three straight games to come back from being down a break to even the set at five. When the Wildcats' Alex Chatt clinched a quick three-set 6-0, 5-7, 6-1 win against Alyssa Smith on Court 5, tying the match at three to wrap up the rest of the afternoon's action, both teams descended on Court 6 to watch the end.
"Of course it gets very nerve-wracking when everyone’s kind of looking at your court to try and win, but when you have the girls right there on your side, and I kind of just make a lot of eye contact with each of the girls, it definitely calms me down," Smaller said. "Having the team right there with me—that’s what gets me through."
After Rischbieth held serve, Smaller cruised through her service game with four straight points to force the tiebreak, but the momentum swung right back to Rischbieth when she used an ace and a crafty drop shot to win four straight points of her own and take control early.
But Smaller battled back with two straight points before the turning point of the tiebreaker came when a shot from the London native appeared to hit the right sideline. Rischbieth called the shot wide, but the chair umpire overruled her and awarded the point to Smaller. Since it was also the third time of the match Rischbieth's call was overruled, she was dealt a point penalty for a code violation, which evened the tiebreaker at four.
"I definitely was getting a bit frustrated with her calls," Smaller said. "It was nice to get that point and get that momentum and hopefully use that to carry me."
Smaller won two more points in a row with Rischbieth rattled by the chair umpire's decision and sudden turn of events, and Duke (4-0) sealed the match when a volley from Rischbieth sailed wide.
The Blue Devils' other singles victories came in fairly comfortable straight-set wins for No. 14 Meible Chi and No. 76 Kaitlyn McCarthy before a dramatic two-set win for No. 34 Chalena Scholl on Court 3.
Scholl won the first set 6-4 against Rheeya Doshi, but fell behind 4-5 in the second set and 15-40 before fighting off three set points, drawing the game to a deuce and slicing in a crosscourt winner at the net to even the set at five. Scholl went on to win a dominant 7-0 tiebreaker to give Duke its first lead of the match at 3-2.
The Blue Devils' three ranked singles competitors remain unbeaten in dual matches this season.
"We’re going to win a lot of matches through the middle of our lineup," said head coach Jamie Ashworth, who notched his 450th win at Duke Sunday. "Our singles can match up really well with anybody."
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Chatt's win pulled Northwestern (4-3) even again, but the Wildcats' only other singles win came on Court 1, with Erin Larner beating Samantha Harris for the second straight week 6-2, 6-3.
At the start of the match, Duke's top doubles tandem of Chi and McCarthy rolled to a dominant 6-0 win against No. 6 Chatt and Maddie Lipp, getting off the court in about 20 minutes, after their match was called off at 6-6 in the middle of a tiebreak when Northwestern won the doubles point last week.
"We were so close to beating them last time, and now that we know some of their strategies, we really worked hard on that and we came out more ready than they were," Chi said. "That’s what made the difference."
But the Wildcats claimed the doubles point for the second week in a row with close victories on Courts 2 and 3.
Northwestern's team of Doshi and Lee Or broke serve with four straight points against Scholl and Smith to take the set 6-4. Harris and Smaller rallied from a 5-2 deficit to win three straight games on Court 3, but Larner and Rischbieth settled down to win the last two games of the set, claiming the point for their team when Smaller sent a forehand wide.
Smaller did not have to wait long for redemption, completing her next rally against Rischbieth a couple of hours later.
"She was disappointed in herself after the doubles match, and I was hoping that it wouldn’t carry over into the singles," Ashworth said. "For someone that honestly in three years hasn’t been in that situation at all where a match comes down to her, she handled it really well."
The Blue Devils will now carry some momentum into next weekend's ITA national team indoor championships in New Haven, Conn.