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Harris, McCarthy to represent Duke women's tennis at Oracle ITA Masters

<p>Samantha Harris will open play as the No. 3 seed at this weekend's tournament on the West Coast.</p>

Samantha Harris will open play as the No. 3 seed at this weekend's tournament on the West Coast.

The Blue Devil women had an impressive opening weekend at the Duke James Bonk Invitational, but head coach Jamie Ashworth isn’t satisfied yet and is looking for his top players to build upon their promising start. 

After opening the season close to home, No. 54 Samantha Harris and No. 57 Kaitlyn McCarthy only had three days of rest before flying cross-country to participate in the 2017 Oracle International Tennis Assocation Masters, a four-day tournament that Thursday. The tournament, with matches being played at both the Malibu Raquet Club and Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., will feature a strong field from top programs like North Carolina, UCLA and Ohio State. 

“We have to be tougher in points,” Ashworth said. “If our opponent is going to be five balls tough, we have to be six balls tough. And on the flip side, we have to do a better job of taking advantage of the first opportunity to end a point.... Two ends of the spectrum, but we’re definitely working on both of those things.”

Beyond toughness, Ashworth also cited service return as an area his team needs to improve on.

"The biggest thing of the weekend that we needed to work on was serve returns," Ashworth said. "We are giving away a lot of free points by not putting the first ball in play.

McCarthy, a junior is coming off an excellent starting weekend, as she won all three of her singles matches and went 3-0 in doubles alongside classmate Ellyse Hamlin. Her weekend was capped by a come-from-behind victory against Florida’s 93rd-ranked Brooke Austin culminating in a third-set tiebreaker. With the perfect weekend, the Cary native has now won her last 24 singles matches in a row after finishing last season on a 21-match win streak.

Harris also started strong, as she went 2-1 in singles last weekend headlined by a victory against the Tar Heels' Maggie Kane in the consolation finals. The senior and former All-ACC first-teamer played the majority of last season in the No. 1 singles position and was ranked as high as No. 49. In a draw that will feature 18 players ranked in the top 125, that experience against top-level competition could prove invaluable. 

“For us to be able to have representation is a great thing for them, but also great for our program and for other girls down the road who strive to be a part of it,” Ashworth said. “It’s a great opportunity for both of them and hopefully they both build on what they did last weekend.”

In the singles draw, Harris was awarded the No. 3 seed and will start play against the 30th seed Tyler Smith from Jackson State. Fourth-seeded McCarthy will open against Northern Kentucky’s Margita Sunjic, the No. 29 seed. Both will also participate in mixed doubles, with Harris will playing alongside Baylor’s Johanner Schretter and McCarthy partnering with Southern California’s Tanner Smith. Mixed doubles will begin Thursday at 11 a.m. followed by the first round of the singles draw. 

“One thing we are talking about a lot is having a purpose with every ball that we hit in practice—not just going through the motions, but getting better every time,” Ashworth said. “Whether we are out there for one hour or three hours, we need to hit every ball with a purpose, have a reason for each drill and we can’t just go through the motions. And if we can do that, the results on the court will take care of themselves.”