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Duke women's tennis outlasts Washington to advance to indoor championships

<p>Meible Chi clinched Sunday's match against Washington with a dramatic three-set singles victory.</p>

Meible Chi clinched Sunday's match against Washington with a dramatic three-set singles victory.

After a fall season full of deep runs in individual tournaments, the Blue Devils looked to last weekend to see if that success would translate to a dual-match format.

And with both a sweeping victory and a hard-fought win under its belt, Duke looks like it will be able to hold strong against almost any opponent.

The No. 9 Blue Devils hosted the ITA Kickoff Weekend Saturday and Sunday at Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center against Fresno State and Washington. Duke swept the Bulldogs 4-0 thanks to dominant play in singles, but was held to a much tighter 4-2 contest against the Huskies to clinch a spot in the ITA Team Indoor Championships in Madison, Wisc., in three weeks.

“Mentally, we were good,” Blue Devil head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “We held up mentally and physically, which is great this early in the season.”

In its opening contest against Fresno State (1-2), Ashworth’s squad controlled virtually every court.

Although the No. 1 tandem of senior Samantha Harris and freshman Kelly Chen took an uncharacteristic 6-2 loss to the unranked duo of Emma Wilson and Georgia Lawson, the rest of Duke’s highly-touted doubles squad was there to pick up the slack. Second-ranked duo of juniors Kaitlyn McCarthy and Ellyse Hamlin took down Juliane Triebe and Katerina Stloukalova 6-2 with ease, and the Blue Devils’ newest pairing of sophomore Meible Chi and freshman Hannah Zhao cruised to a 6-1 win against Abbey Watanabe and Alessia Dario.

With the doubles point secured, Duke (3-0) carried its momentum to dominate Fresno State in singles. Zhao was the first of the Blue Devils off the courts, having swept Olivia Noble 6-0, 6-4 on Court 6. Seventh-ranked Harris was not far behind, picking up a 6-3, 6-2 win against Wilson on Court 1, and No. 100 Chi took down Lawson 6-1, 6-3 on Court 5 to clinch the win for Duke.

“Against Fresno State, we were just better than them in singles,” Ashworth said. “Our doubles was a little bit sluggish—we played a little bit defensive. We discussed taking advantage of opportunities. We did a better job of that in singles. We played with more emotion and we played composed. We did what we needed to do to get off the courts quick and be ready to play a good match against Washington.”

Although the Blue Devils breezed past the Bulldogs, Washington (2-2) forced Duke to dig deep in long matches.

The Blue Devils suffered an unlikely early setback against the Huskies, who took the doubles point with three unranked tandems. Although McCarthy and Hamlin found a routine 6-2 win against Kenadi Hance and Lana Slavica, the duos of Chen and Harris and Chi and Zhao both fell 7-5.

“Yesterday, [Sam and Kelly] got off to a slow start against Fresno,” Ashworth said. “I think today they played much better. Again, though, they had some opportunities on some deuce points that Washington played more aggressive than we did, and that’s something we need to work on.”

In what would turn into a match with four three-set meetings in singles, Duke endured the marathons to come out on top.

Hamlin was the first off the court. Against Alexis Prokopuik on Court 4, the Fairfield, Conn., native cruised to a quick 6-1, 6-3 victory. After controlling the first set, Hamlin fought off a surge from Prokopuik to maintain the lead and knot the match score 1-1. But it took almost another hour before the next match was finished.

No. 64 McCarthy was the next to put the Blue Devils ahead, taking down Miki Kobayashi 7-6 (7-5), 7-5 on Court 2. Kobayashi raced out of the gates with a 4-1 lead in set one, but the junior Blue Devil battled back to force a tiebreaker. Again down 4-0 in the tiebreaker, McCarthy surged ahead to take the set. The second set was no easier for the Cary, N.C., native, with Kobayashi again taking the early 3-1 lead. But McCarthy pushed forth with a 6-2 run to finally close out the match.

On Court 3, No. 58 Chen battled yet another unrelenting Husky, with Vanessa Wong repeatedly denying the Duke freshman’s attempts to close the match. Although Chen took the first set with ease, Wong stole the second set in a tiebreaker 7-6 (7-5). In the final set, the rookie Blue Devil trailed 3-1 before finding another gear to take control once and for all, securing the set 6-4 and putting Duke in striking distance of winning the match.

Although Zhao fell just moments later in a heartbreaking 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (8-6) loss to Katarina Kopcalic, Chi was the one to give the Blue Devils the last point they needed.

No. 100 Chi took the early advantage on Court 5 against Hance, taking the first set 6-2 and seemingly setting herself up for a quick win. Despite leading 4-1 early in the second set, Chi allowed the Washington sophomore to surge with a 4-0 run to take the lead. Although Chi tried to pull back in front, Hance denied her attempts and won the second-set tiebreaker 7-5. 

Yet again, Chi took the advantage in the third set—leading Hance 5-3 with the clinch in sight. Hance put forth one more attempt to take the match, but Chi closed out the set 6-4 to give the Blue Devils their third straight win of 2018.

“I had a lot of opportunities in the second set, and I couldn’t convert,” Chi said. “[Hance] played well. She forced me to create shots. The second set was tough to lose, but I came out in the third thinking that I had what it takes to win the match and I was confident in that. If I kept going for my plan and trusting it, it would all work out.”

Duke will return to the courts Saturday afternoon at No. 10 Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“We’re going to Michigan next weekend, and they’re a very good team,” Ashworth said. “Indoors at their place, when we have the opportunity to win points and finish points, we’ve got to be better at it.... Against good teams and good opponents, you only get one opportunity to finish points, so you better take advantage of it.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story mixed up three of Duke's singles opponents against Washington. The Chronicle regrets the error.