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Duke women's tennis sweeps Elon to open dual-match season

<p>Kaitlyn McCarthy has been solid all season.</p>

Kaitlyn McCarthy has been solid all season.

After a fall season that was highlighted by doubles success, the singles side took center stage for the Blue Devils to open their dual match slate.

In a match that was lopsided from the first serve, No. 9 Duke (1-0) left the Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center without a blemish on the scoreboard. The Blue Devils handled Elon for the third consecutive year 7-0, as the Phoenix (3-2) were unable to handle the nation’s top two doubles teams and four ITA ranked singles players Wednesday afternoon.

“I thought the singles was good,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “I told them, ‘No matter who we’re playing, whether it’s Elon or whether it’s Serena Williams on the other side of the net, a short forehand is a short forehand.’ We have to be able to do the right thing with it, so it was good to see.”

The much-anticipated dual match debut of freshman Kelly Chen did not last long, as the reigning ACC Freshman of the Week dispatched Elon’s Suzanne Zenoni 6-0, 6-1 in a mere 45 minutes. The No. 58 player stormed out after her doubles play to win the first seven games until Zenoni broke Chen’s serve in the second set. But Chen, who was slated on the third singles court, followed suit and broke back, winning the next five games for the straight-set rout.

“Everyone played really solid. Obviously, a sweep across all of the courts is a really great start to the season, but it looked like everyone was playing pretty sharp just to start off, which was really great,” junior Kaitlyn McCarthy said. “I know in the past two years that I’ve been here, sometimes we haven’t started off quite as strong as we did today. But to see everyone coming out firing as well as they were, it was pretty great to see. It just builds confidence going into this weekend.”

The No. 64 junior was another player that jumped out to an early lead on the back of two breaks of Elon’s Erica Braschi for a 6-1, 6-2 victory on Court Two. After winning the first set off a backhand volley winner, the Cary, N.C., native was quickly in the hole after losing two of the first three games on serve in the second set. But McCarthy turned the set around and won five straight games for a victory that lasted just under 75 minutes, the longest of her teammates.

“I was executing a little bit more spotty at the beginning of the second set,” McCarthy said. “Just cleaning up the execution and keeping on track with my game plan, which was trying to look for more forehands and get inside the court and hit the ball.”

The Blue Devils were led by senior No. 7, Samantha Harris who started the match convincingly against Olivia Lucas. The Melbourne, Australia native went up 6-0, 5-0 and had the finish line in sight, but Lucas held serve twice sandwiched with a break of Harris’ serve to bring the second-set score to 5-3. Then, the senior regrouped and won the match after a serve that Lucas could not return.

“A little bit of that is the no-ad scoring. She lost a couple of deuce points here and there. When you play high in a lineup, no matter who we play, you’re going to face someone that’s going to compete,” Ashworth said. “She did a good job regrouping, hitting some good serves at the end there, getting some free points and moving forward, because when she does that, she’s as good as anyone in the country.”

In the fourth and fifth positions, Duke only lost three games in each match. No. 100 Meible Chi, who struggled at times in the fall, forced an error in a deciding deuce point to clinch the first set. In the second frame, Elon’s Alex Koniaev held serve in the first game to gain an early advantage. But Chi responded with a hold of her own to even the set at one apiece. Two Blue Devil breaks and two more holds later, Chi earned match point, and the sophomore capitalized when she was brought inside of the baseline and finished off the set and match 6-2, 6-1 with a cross-court forehand winner.

Junior Ellyse Hamlin broke Maria Paraja’s serve to open up the first set and push through to a first-set victory with a deciding deuce set point win. In the second set, the Fairfield, Conn., native split the first two games, but eventually pulled away after a swinging volley to break Paraja put her up 2-1, and she did not look back. Hamlin walked away as a winner in a 6-1, 6-2 result.

In the sixth and final singles match of the afternoon, another freshman improved as the day progressed. Hannah Zhao, who hails from San Diego, only joined the team for the spring semester. After winning her first career singles match in Honolulu last week, the freshman took an early two-game lead to open up the first set, but Elon’s Montana Moore squared the frame at two all. Zhao responded with a deuce point win and continued on to lose only one more game in the match en route to a 6-2, 6-1 victory that lasted a hair over an hour.

“She’s settled down a little bit,” Ashworth said. “The more comfortable she is with her environment, then the better she’ll be. She did a good job. She started moving forward a little bit more. She started not just waiting for the girl to miss. That will be a key. She’ll be a big factor in what we do.”

On the doubles side, the Blue Devils earned two quick victories to earn the point. ITA No. 1 doubles pair Harris and Chen won their match 6-2 on Court One, and the new duo of Chi and Zhao made quick work of their opponents, winning 6-1 in a half-hour. No. 2 McCarthy and Hamlin were left two points away from victory at 5-2, 30-0 when the doubles point was decided. Although the results were in line with a strong fall season, Ashworth did not see the doubles duos playing at the level he expects.

“To be honest with you, our doubles was a little bit flat. I thought that we gave away some free points at the net, and I think that was a little bit of nerves,” Ashworth said. “We have to do a better job of finishing when we have opportunities to finish points.”

The Blue Devils will look to continue their strong play this weekend, when they will play host for the ITA Kickoff Weekend back in Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center. Duke will match up against Fresno State at 1 p.m. Then, the Blue Devils will either take on No. 20 LSU or Washington Sunday. With two victories, Duke would head to the National Team Indoors next month. 

“This weekend, competition’s better than this, so we can’t let anyone have that opportunity to start to believe that they can win,” Ashworth said. “When we have a chance to end points and finish points, we have to take advantage of it.”


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