CARY, N.C.—Kaitlyn McCarthy came back home and looked the part.
On the same Cary courts she grew up playing on many years ago, the junior and Cary native's finals win in her draw was reminiscent of her childhood, a year after she was unable to compete in the tournament due to injury.
With four different singles titles at stake for the Blue Devils, they still had a chance to claim three on championship Sunday in the face of stiff competition, including the likes of defending national champion Florida, North Carolina and Georgia Tech. But only two Duke players—McCarthy and junior Ellyse Hamlin—took home titles, and the duo also won all three doubles matches paired together this weekend in the Duke James Bonk Invitational at the Cary Tennis Park.
“We put ourselves in competitive situations where for some of our girls, they hadn’t been in that in a couple of months, so that was good. Results were a little bit mixed, but it gives us something to work on for the next two weeks,” Blue Devil head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “Now that we’ve seen them in match situations, rather than just practice courts, it’s just a different mindset. In that way, I think that it was a very successful weekend.”
Despite taking home the title, McCarthy wasn’t able to find her groove early in the final match. For the second time in three days, she had to fight her way back from trailing in the third and deciding set to defeat her opponent in pursuit of a singles title.
After first and second-round wins against Mia Rabinowitz from Illinois and Alex Chatt of Northwestern, McCarthy's championship match came down to the final set. Down 5-2 to Florida’s Brooke Austin, the junior slowly gained momentum and fought back to take a 6-5 set lead. But Austin won a game, McCarthy rallied in the tiebreaker to secure the 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(5) win.
On the other hand, Hamlin’s route to the finals was a little different.
“Her first-round match, she played one of her best friends, so mentally that was tough,” Ashworth said. “In the finals, she played a teammate, mentally tough to have to do that, and hopefully she became better this weekend and can build on that as well.”
That teammate was sophomore Meible Chi. After a Hamlin double fault gave Chi the 6-5 advantage in the first set, the junior fought back, winning the first set in a tiebreaker. The second set opened with Chi taking the early lead, but Hamlin maintained her focus and went on to claim the top draw win 7-6(5), 7-5.
Together, the No. 25 doubles tandem of McCarthy and Hamlin took all three doubles rotations Friday and Saturday, defeating teams from Furman, Elon and Illinois—8-3, 8-0 and 8-4, respectively.
“They had a good tournament in the summer that got them into a couple events coming up,” Ashworth said. “It was good for us to be able to see them play and be on the court with them.”
The fourth singles finalist for Ashworth’s Blue Devil team was freshman Kelly Chen, coming off her run at the U.S. Open Junior Girls tournament. Chen took the first set 6-2 and looked to close the second one off easily. But, North Carolina's Makenna Jones rallied for a second-set tiebreak win and a subsequent 6-2 third-set win to claim her draw.
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Senior Rebecca Smaller was upended in her first-round match Friday. In the consolation round Sunday, Smaller was unable to rally from a 5-2 deficit in the third set, losing 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
Senior Samantha Harris took out Tar Heel Maggie Kane to take the consolation crown 6-3, 6-1 in the third women’s draw.
Finally, to round out the Blue Devils' singles play, freshman Ema Lazic blew past North Carolina's Marika Akkerman 6-2, 6-3. But the young freshman struggled in the final two matches of her weekend, losing 6-2, 6-3 in the draw’s semifinals and 6-1, 6-2 in the third-place match to players from Northwestern and Georgia Tech, respectively.
Behind the strong duo of McCarthy and Hamlin, Chi and Chen paired up to attempt to match their cohesive team play. However, it looked like there wasn’t enough time to bring Chi and Chen—who had been busy at the US open—together. This second Duke force showed promise, defeating the No. 55 Furman doubles team 8-4 in the first doubles rotation. But Florida’s Austin and Peggy Porter proved to be too much to handle, defeating them 8-1. The third rotation saw a closer result, as the Blue Devil pair ended up losing 8-7(3) in a highly contested match.
Ashworth decided to match two international teammates—Smaller and Lazic—to attempt to defeat two ITF ranked doubles combinations. However, these Blue Devils were unable to defeat the teams from N.C. State and Georgia Tech in the first and third rotations, respectively. But, all was not lost as this duo later closed out an 8-6 win against a combined Florida and Georgia Tech pairing.
“It was great to be on the court practicing, but now we know specific things that we can build on and specific things that we can work on moving forward,” Ashworth said.
Looking ahead to this week, two Blue Devils—McCarthy and Harris—will compete in the Oracle Masters in Malibu, Calif. beginning Thursday.