Playing on the road in the nation’s top conference against highly-ranked opponents is supposed to be a challenge. But no one informed the Blue Devils.
No. 2 Duke pulled off a near-perfect sweep of the weekend, knocking off No. 12 Wake Forest Friday and No. 24 Virginia Sunday afternoon. Playing at the Wake Forest Tennis Complex and Virginia’s Snyder Tennis Center, the Blue Devils dropped only four sets en route to 7-0 victories. For the first time since 2009, Duke has swept three straight matches, and Sunday’s win gave the Blue Devils their third top-25 road victory of the year.
“To win two ACC matches on the road against two top-25 teams 7-0 is a great feat for us,” Blue Devil head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “We got better this weekend with being mentally tough, with our doubles and just our overall play. It was just a big weekend for our team, and we handled it really, really well.”
Once again, senior Samantha Harris stood atop the lineup and continued her climb up the Duke record books. With two ranked wins this weekend, the Melbourne, Australia, native earned her 32nd career ACC singles win, which moved her into third place in program history. She needs seven more to cement herself at No. 1.
But it did not come easily, as No. 10 Harris had to go to three sets to pull it out Friday. After losing the first set 2-6, the senior bounced back to win the final two frames 6-2, 6-2 to knock off Wake Forest’s No. 33 Emma Davis.
“Ultimately, it’s her making the changes, but she was very coachable even though she had lost the first set. The only thing that we talked about was depth...through height or pace,” Ashworth said. “Where she’s playing, everyone can hit a good forehand and a good backhand, so she has to do a better job of pushing people back.”
Harris’ mentality shifted slightly as she entered Sunday’s matchup against Virginia’s No. 67 Rosie Johanson. In last season’s March meeting in Durham, Harris lost 4-6, 6-2, 0-1 (8). But the adjustment she made Friday paid dividends as she defeated her Cavalier opponent.
“[She] was willing to maybe not hit the ball as hard, but get a little more height and get a more vertical game than just pace and moving laterally. Again, that is a tribute to her and her maturity level, and today was a huge match for her,” Ashworth said. “She stayed extremely focused throughout the entire thing.”
In the second and third positions for the Blue Devils (10-1, 3-0 in the ACC) were junior Kaitlyn McCarthy and freshman Kelly Chen, respectively. No. 87 McCarthy upended No. 63 Eliza Omirou 6-4, 6-2 of the Demon Deacons (10-4, 1-2), and Virginia’s Cassie Mercer 6-1, 6-3. No. 22 Chen gave up five games in both of her straight-set victories against unranked opponents. She won 6-1, 6-4 Friday to clinch a Duke win and 6-2, 6-3 Sunday as the first Blue Devil to finish in singles.
Playing singles for the fourth consecutive match, Meible Chi extended her undefeated streak in dual matches to 11 in a row, as the No. 47 sophomore earned two straight-set wins.
“She’s improved tremendously from the start of dual matches and also from the fall. She’s hitting a much cleaner ball. She is very efficient with her point play, taking advantage of the first opportunity she gets, and she’s playing with confidence,” Ashworth said. “The combination of all those together are great for her and in turn, great for our team.”
Junior Ellyse Hamlin continued the trend, as the Fairfield, Conn., native sealed a tight super tiebreaker in the No. 5 singles position for a 6-4, 3-6, 1-0 (8) win against Wake Forest’s Joanna Zalewski before besting Chloe Gullickson of Virginia (7-4, 2-2) in straight sets.
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In the sixth and final singles spot, Hannah Zhao needed more than two sets to clinch victories for her team. After defeating Wake Forest’s M.C. Meredith 6-4, 0-6, 6-2 Friday, the freshman fought back from a one-set deficit to finish off the sweep, defeating Erica Susi 1-6, 6-4, 1-0 (8).
“The tiebreakers are tough because they are more like a crapshoot, but she had a little momentum after winning the second set, not playing a great first set. She put that behind her and competed well,” Ashworth said. “There were other things that she did very well like competing and not giving up and making the other girl hit another ball.”
On the doubles side, Duke did not drop a single set. The duo of Chi and Zhao notched two victories, and the doubles tandems of No. 3 McCarthy and Hamlin and No. 6 Harris and Chen earned one victory apiece.
“We kind of challenged them a little bit with making sure they make the right choices because having energy and having attitude is 90 percent of doubles,” Ashworth said. “It gives us something to build on.”
The Blue Devils will return to Durham for more than a week off before hitting the road to Lake Nona, Fla., to face TCU at the USTA National Campus March 13 along with the men’s team as part of the Spearman Family Trip. Duke will then return to ACC play on the road against Boston College.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to win every point. Our girls do a very good job of valuing every point. In the match today, for example, we’re up 4-0, there’s no letup at all,” Ashworth said. “Even if we won the match and are up 5-0 or 6-0, they’re out there supporting the last person on the court like it’s a 3-all match and we have to win that to win, so I think that’s a sign of a really good team.”