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Duke women's tennis defeats No. 10 Michigan in first true road match of season

<p>Ellyse Hamlin and Kaitlyn McCarthy were split up Saturday.</p>

Ellyse Hamlin and Kaitlyn McCarthy were split up Saturday.

Duke has traveled as far as Honolulu and as near as Chapel Hill in the fall and early spring season. Couple the individual tournaments with three home matches, and the Blue Devils have almost experienced the full slate of the college tennis. 

But there was one thing Duke lacked on its resume: a true road match.

After claiming the ITA Kickoff at home last weekend to clinch a coveted spot at the National Team Indoors next weekend, Duke traveled north for its first true road match of the season. The ninth-ranked Blue Devils marched into Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday afternoon and won 4-1 against No. 10 Michigan, handing the Wolverines their first home loss at Michigan Tennis Center in more than two years. Duke is off to a 4-0 start to the spring for the 11th straight year.

“It was a good atmosphere, beautiful tennis center,” Blue Devil head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “It’s exciting to play. I love playing in front of opposing crowds, and I know our team does too. We can only learn from this and be better from this win in ACC season.”

Duke (4-0) walked onto the court after losing the doubles point last week against newly-ranked Washington. But the visiting Blue Devils took the critical point in convincing fashion Saturday. The strong play began with the recently-formed duo of sophomore Meible Chi and freshman Hannah Zhao. The pair did not drop a game on Court 3 and gave the team an early advantage and time to prepare for their respective singles matches.

“Our starts were so much better today. We challenged them to go out and try to win the first three games of each doubles match,” Ashworth said. “We didn’t win the first three games on every court, but we played like that was our mindset, and I think we did a great job with our intensity and our focus.”

On Court 2, ITA No. 2 tandem of Kaitlyn McCarthy and Ellyse Hamlin—who won each of their last two dual matches 6-2—took down their Michigan opponents 6-3 to clinch the doubles point. Each team held serve for the first six games of the match until the junior pair took a deciding deuce point to break Michigan, and the rest was history.

In the first position for Ashworth, senior Samantha Harris and freshman Kelly Chen had their match go unfinished at 5-5 when the doubles point was clinched.

On the singles side, there were some ups and downs. But the Blue Devils only needed three victories to travel back to Durham victorious, and they did just that. After an impressive doubles match earlier, Hamlin returned to the court, but not for long. The junior quickly finished off Michigan’s Mira Ruder-Hook 6-2, 6-1 to give the Blue Devils a 3-0 advantage.

“Ellyse has been doing a great job all spring. She’s playing like she’s practicing, and that’s something that’s been great to see out of her because honestly, in her first two years, she was not as consistent as she’s been so far this spring,” Ashworth said. “The other thing is the level of emotion she’s brought to every match has been unbelievable and I think she’s seeing the dividends of that.... She’s a big factor in what we do and we couldn’t be prouder of where she is and how hard she’s working.”

Although Hamlin was quick to finish on Court 4, Chen was deemed a winner less than two minutes earlier. Chen opponent, fellow freshman Alyvia Jones, retired from the match due to an injury, giving Chen a 6-4, 3-0 win. No. 58 freshman broke Jones’ serve at 4-4 in the first set and later served out the set.

No. 100 Chi, whose play has improved this spring, did not come out of the gate firing on all cylinders. The sophomore lost the first three games of the opening frame before regrouping and collecting the next four to earn her first lead. After Michigan’s Bella Lorenzini held serve to tie the set up at 4-apiece, Chi went on to win the set 6-4.

“I know she was frustrated after the first couple of games because she had some opportunities. She held her composure,” Ashworth said. “She knew if she played her game, that was a match that she could definitely win.”

In the second set, Chi split the first two games before eventually breaking the Wolverine and winning the match 6-4, 6-2 for her eighth win in a row. That win clinched the road victory for the Blue Devils and marked the third straight dual match that a Chi win served as the clincher against the Wolverines (3-1).

Duke’s lone blemish on the scoreboard came by way of Zhao, whose record on the season has dropped to 3-3 after joining the team in January. In the sixth position, the freshman lost 4-6, 4-6 to Michigan senior Alex Najarian.

The remaining two matches were not completed on the top two courts. On Court 2, No. 64 McCarthy faced Michigan’s No. 74 Chiara Lomer, and the Blue Devil junior was well on her way to victory before having the match end prematurely. The Cary, N.C., native took the first set 6-4 and continued her strong play in the next set, where the match finished with McCarthy serving up 4-3, 40-0.

The top of the lineup card had No. 7 Harris pitted against No. 33 Kate Fahey. Harris lost a tight first set 6-4, and the close match continued deep into the second set, where Fahey won a deciding point at 4-4 just as Chi clinched the victory for the Blue Devils. Fahey enters the year after reaching the quarterfinals last spring at NCAA Individuals.

“If Sam can just keep moving forward and trusting herself moving forward, then she can beat anybody in the country, and she’s shown that,” Ashworth said. “The girl she played is a very good player, a great competitor, so it was good. Sam was playing a good match.”

With a road top-10 victory already in the bag, the team will look to continue its winning ways next weekend. The Blue Devils will travel to Madison, Wis., for the National Team Indoors next Friday, with hopes of playing through Monday, Feb. 12.

“I hope [this match] shows our team that if we play with emotion and we play physical tennis—last week, we were emotional, but we didn’t execute great. But if we can execute, we can beat anybody, anytime, anywhere. But if we don’t do those things, we can lose to anybody, anytime, anywhere,” Ashworth said. “It’s a great learning experience. Hopefully, it  carries over into next week and to know if we play and compete like we did today, really good things are in store for us.”