Facing a challenging second half of their ACC slate, the Blue Devils looked to secure a pair of key conference wins a week before taking on one of their most challenging opponents of the season.
And Duke handled its weekend slate with ease, showing yet again that it is a true national contender.
The No. 4 Blue Devils took on No. 24 Florida State and Louisville Thursday and Saturday at home at Ambler Tennis Stadium. In both contests, Duke took down its competition 6-1, securing both hard-fought doubles points and only faltering once in each match on the singles courts.
“We learned a lot about having to play our own game and not worrying about how other people are playing or getting drawn into how other people are playing,” Blue Devil head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “Against Florida State, we played with a lot of emotion which was great and something we need to build. [Against Louisville], we got sucked into playing how Louisville likes to play. I told the girls after the doubles we have to stay true to ourselves and stay focused and be mentally the stronger team on the court.”
At the outset of Duke’s contest with the Seminoles, the Blue Devils (16-1, 8-0 in the ACC) knew they were in for a battle.
Florida State (12-7, 4-5) rocketed out to a strong start in doubles, with the tandem of Gabriella Castaneda and Petra Hule knocking out sophomore Meible Chi and freshman Hannah Zhao 7-5. But the Blue Devils on Courts 1 and 2 both broke through 5-5 splits to secure the advantage. The No. 6 duo of juniors Ellyse Hamlin and Kaitlyn McCarthy were the first from Duke to take a win, toppling Julia Mikulski and Andrea Garcia 7-5. With the doubles point hanging in the balance, the No. 5 tandem of senior Samantha Harris and freshman Kelly Chen battled through a tiebreaker to win 7-6 (9-7) against the 58th-ranked duo of Carla Touly and Ariana Rahmanparast.
“With the doubles, there is such a fine line between winning and losing matches,” Ashworth said. “You get a lot of the three-all points and the no-ad points, so you’ve got to play those better, which comes back to some mental toughness stuff. We’re a strong team mentally. When it did get tight and when we were down in doubles, there wasn’t any panic at all.”
But after a tight victory in doubles, the Blue Devils brought down the hammer on the singles courts.
No. 60 Chi was the first to secure a win for Duke, cruising to an easy 6-2, 6-1 victory against Hule. 29th-ranked Chen was quick to follow up, downing Castaneda 6-3, 6-1. The Blue Devils concluded their trio of rapid-fire wins to clinch the match thanks to a 6-3, 6-2 win from No. 7 Harris against No. 30 Touly.
Although the fate of the match was already decided, the Seminoles refused to let up on the remaining courts.
Despite blanking Rahmanparast 6-0 in set one, 73rd-ranked Hamlin had to dig deep to notch a win on Court 5. Although the junior Blue Devil held the lead in the second set, the Florida State sophomore battled forward to knot the ledger 6-6. However, Hamlin put it away with a 7-4 scoreline in the tiebreaker.
No. 69 McCarthy played a similarly tight match against Nandini Das. Although McCarthy secured the first set 7-5, Das flipped the script with a 6-2 win in the second. The Duke junior refused to let the match get away from her, though, taking three straight points to win the super-tiebreaker 10-7. Zhao was the only Blue Devil to stumble Thursday, falling 6-3, 3-6, 1-0 (10-8) against Garcia.
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With a solid win against Florida State in the rearview mirror, Duke kept its momentum up against the Cardinals (13-6, 3-5).
Louisville kept the Blue Devils on the ropes again through the doubles contests. Although McCarthy and Hamlin were quick to take down Sena Suswam and Ariana Rodriguez 6-3, Duke found itself down 4-2 on Courts 1 and 3. However, Chi and Zhao strung together a 5-1 run to secure the doubles point for the Blue Devils.
“Louisville played pretty well today on all three courts,” Chi said. “They weren’t fazed by us and they came out playing really well. On Court 3 for Hannah, and I we knew that it wasn’t a great day for us, but we figured that as long as we stayed positive and stayed in it, we would have our opportunity to pull it out.”
Yet again, Duke bounced back from a tough doubles matchup to crush the singles competition.
Hamlin was the first Blue Devil off the courts, winning her match 6-1, 6-2 against Raven Neely. Minutes later, Chen followed suit, knocking off Tiffany Huber 6-1, 6-2 to notch a team-high 28th win of the season. Harris contributed the clincher with a 6-2, 6-2 win against Aleksandra Mally thanks to a 5-0 run in the second set. The Melbourne, Australia, native tied Rachel Kahan with 36 career ACC wins for the second-most all-time at Duke.
On Courts 2 and 6, the Blue Devils continued to dominate, with Chi notching a 6-3, 6-3 win against the spin-heavy Mariana Humberg and Zhao taking the 6-3, 6-1 win against Suswam.
However, Duke came up just short of a perfect sweep, with McCarthy finding herself on the other end of a tiebreaker against Abbie Pahz, falling 7-5, 4-6, 1-0 (13-11). Although McCarthy led 4-1 in the second set, Pahz won five straight games to send the match into a first-to-10 tiebreaker. In a back-and-forth affair, the Louisville junior finally found the upper hand.
The Blue Devils face their toughest competition so far in the ACC next week with a road matchup against No. 3 Georgia Tech Friday in Atlanta.
“It’s going to be a battle [against Georgia Tech], and we’re all really excited for that,” Chi said. “We’ve had a couple good matches against them in the past. For sure, [we’re looking forward to] just bringing it out and showing everything we’ve got against Tech.”