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Taking care of business: Duke women's tennis stays perfect in ACC play to set up dramatic final regular-season week

<p>Alyssa Smith and the Blue Devils have won 11 straight ACC matches and will battle for a regular-season conference championship next week.&nbsp;</p>

Alyssa Smith and the Blue Devils have won 11 straight ACC matches and will battle for a regular-season conference championship next week. 

With a pivotal set of matches on the horizon, the Blue Devils took care of business this weekend to put themselves in position to play for an ACC regular-season title in the final week of the season.

No. 14 Duke beat Wake Forest 5-2 Thursday at Ambler Tennis Stadium in Durham before upending Syracuse by the same margin Sunday at Drumlins Country Club in Syracuse, N.Y., to move to 11-0 in ACC play. Although the Blue Devils got off to bumpy starts in both matches, they were able to rebound due to their depth at the bottom of their singles lineup.

“I was really happy that we got out of [Syracuse] with a 5-2 victory. We’ve had some good wins,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth told “It’s good for us for us to know that we can do that.”

Against Wake Forest (16-8, 6-6 in the ACC), Duke battled back and forth in the doubles matches, with the senior duo of Chalena Scholl and Alyssa Smith winning the deciding match 7-5 against Emma Davis and Chandler Carter to secure a hotly-contested doubles point on Court 2.

Davis and Carter had Scholl and Smith on the ropes early in the set, with leads of 3-0 and 4-1. But the Blue Devil tandem fought back with four straight games to take a 5-4 lead before ultimately pulling away.

Duke (17-3, 11-0) ran with the momentum it got from its second doubles pairing’s comeback victory, taking four of the six singles matches to grab the conference win. No. 50 Scholl remained unbeaten in ACC singles matches, breezing past Anna Ulyashchenko 6-3, 6-0 and moving to a perfect 13-0 the third singles position this season.

Scholl’s play made up for the disappointing results from freshman Meible Chi in the matchup, as the 33rd-ranked singles player lost in straight sets to unranked Emma Davis after also dropping her doubles set with Kaitlyn McCarthy—the duo is the No. 36 pairing in the nation—to Ulyashchenko and Kimmy Guerin 6-4.

As was the case in the matchup against the Demon Deacons, the Orange (7-12, 4-8) challenged Duke in doubles. But this time, after the Blue Devils won the third doubles matchup with junior Samantha Harris and sophomore Ellyse Hamlin teaming up to defeat Nicole Mitchell and Marira Tritou 6-2, Syracuse rebounded to pull off victories at No. 1 and No. 2 doubles to secure the match’s first point.

“We had some opportunities that we missed,” Ashworth said. “We had to return a little bit better.”

Duke was still able to overwhelm the Orange in the individual matches, ripping off five straight wins to guarantee another conference victory. After a tough outing against Wake Forest, Chi found her groove at No. 2 singles, breezing past No. 80 Gabriela Knutson 6-0, 6-2. Smith and Hamlin won again on Courts 5 and 6, giving Ashworth’s squad confidence with Scholl, McCarthy and Harris still playing.

“The end of the doubles was really emotional. We took our time after the doubles—we regrouped and talked about being the best team,” Ashworth said. “I was really proud about how we came out emotionally and fired up in our singles [matches].”

Soon after, Scholl emerged unscathed once again with a 6-1, 7-5 win against Anna Shkudun, winning the last two games in the second set to seal the victory for the Blue Devils.

Then, McCarthy—who is on a run similar to Scholl’s—came back to win 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 against Tritou. Although the reigning ACC Player of the Week dropped her first set in nearly a month, she battled back to push her individual unbeaten streak to more than two months with the gutsy victory.

“Mentally, [McCarthy] was the much better player on the court of the two of them, and then as soon as she got that opening in the middle of the second set, she just took it and ran with it from there,” Ashworth said. “She’s done such a good job from the mental standpoint in the last couple of matches.”

With another week’s business taken care of, Duke must gear up before a crucial run of three matches in a span of five days, starting Wednesday in Chapel Hill against Tobacco Road rival and No. 3 North Carolina. After that matchup, the Blue Devils will take on Louisville and then No. 6 Georgia Tech Sunday—the only other undefeated team in ACC play.

Since the Tar Heels only have one conference loss, they too are fighting for a conference regular-season title along with Duke and the Yellow Jackets.

“We want to be as tough as we can in all these matches. In Carolina, there’s not a lot of motivating we need to do because we know it’s a huge match down the street,” Ashworth said. “When we have the opportunities to execute, we just have to take advantage of them and play smart, play disciplined and not let the moment get to us.”