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Duke women's tennis dominates Florida Gulf Coast and Florida State to open Florida road swing

<p>Duke freshman Meible Chi and the Blue Devils made quick work of two Florida opponents to start their busy week.</p>

Duke freshman Meible Chi and the Blue Devils made quick work of two Florida opponents to start their busy week.

After struggling in three straight losses to top-15 opponents at the ITA team indoor championship Feb. 10-12, the Blue Devils looked lost.

But after a 10-day break, Duke has come roaring back in the outdoor season.

The No. 18 Blue Devils extended their winning streak to four matches with a 6-1 victory Wednesday at Florida Gulf Coast at the FGCU Tennis Complex in Fort Myers, Fla., and a 7-0 stomping of Florida State Friday at the Scott Speicher Tennis Center in Tallahassee, Fla. Duke leaned on its doubles to get the early momentum in both matches, taking the point in both contests for the first time since Feb. 11.

The Blue Devils will wrap up their Florida road swing Sunday at Miami. 

“Our practice here in Tallahassee, all we did was work on doubles,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth told “It paid off today. We have to play aggressive and disciplined in our doubles, and we did that for the most part, especially one doubles, we just jumped at them right away.... The two-week gap was good for recovery and stuff, but we’re better the more we put ourselves out on the line and just go and play and not have to worry about practice and get up for practice.”

The No. 34-ranked doubles combination of Kaitlyn McCarthy and Meible Chi and the No. 2 pairing of Chalena Scholl and Alyssa Smith helped set the tone for Duke in Friday's victory, winning their matches in a matter of minutes 6-0 and 6-3, respectively. 

But it wasn’t always easy for Duke against the Eagles Wednesday, which pushed Duke in the early stages of doubles play. McCarthy and Chi routed Gulf Coast’s Julia Ascua and Julianna Curtis 6-3, but after the Blue Devils were defeated at No. 3 doubles, Scholl and Smith had to rally from a 2-0 deficit to take the decisive match 7-5.

From there, Duke surged, only losing one singles match Wednesday and Friday. Minus Ellyse's Hamlin's tight 2-6, 7-5, 10-1 loss at the No. 6 slot Wednesday, Duke (7-3, 2-0 in the ACC) swept the singles competition against the Eagles (7-4) with straight-sets victories on every court.

Duke carried that momentum into their second ACC contest Friday against the Seminoles (8-7, 1-4), taking every singles match. Chi defeated Florida State's top player Gabriella Castaneda handily, earning a 6-2, 6-0 victory, and Scholl and McCarthy quickly sealed the team's overall win by dropping just 11 combined games in two straight-set victories. 

Outside of their dominant play at the top, the Blue Devils also excelled when it mattered the most—singles tiebreakers. With the overall outcome against the Seminoles already decided, Hamlin, senior Alyssa Smith and junior Samantha Harris all won tiebreakers, giving Duke a perfect 3-0 ledger in those situations.

“At the end of the year, it comes down to individual matches, and so we’re treating every individual match the same, like it doesn’t matter to us if we’re up 4-0, 5-0, 5-2,” Ashworth said. “We’re going to do everything we can do to win those matches and not let up just because our team won.... In moments with the most pressure, we handled ourselves really well.”

After its string of dominant victories, Duke will look to carry its momentum into the heart of conference play against Miami Sunday at noon in Coral Gables, Fla.

Led by two top-seven players in the nation, Sinead Lohan and Sara Daavettila, Miami started the spring season ranked No. 12 in the nation, but has plummeted after losing four of its first six matches of the season. The Hurricanes still sit in the top 30, however, which should make for a more competitive Sunday matchup. 

“Miami is a good team, but also Coral Gables is one of the toughest places to play in the country,” Ashworth said. “We’ve had some of the best teams I’ve had at Duke come down there and have really tough matches. But this group plays with a lot of heart and a lot of fight, so looking forward to getting down there and playing a good match on Sunday.”