The Blue Devils may have begun the season later than expected this fall, but no one would have known it watching Duke play this week.
Freshman Maria Mateas won four matches en route to an ITA All-American championship appearance Sunday afternoon. The Blue Devil newcomer fell to Gonzaga’s No. 35 Sophie Whittle 4-6, 7-5, 3-6 at the Riviera Tennis Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif. The Blue Devils were the only school to have three players in the final 16 and two in the quarterfinals.
“[Maria] let the moment get to her a little bit being her first college event and the finals of one of the three biggest tournaments of the year,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “It was a great learning experience for her and hopefully something that she can build on as the year goes on.”
The freshman earned a spot in the main draw thanks to her place atop the ITA Newcomer List. In the first round, Mateas defeated Wisconsin’s Sara Castellano 6-2, 4-6, 6-0. She then rolled past No. 60 Alexa Graham 6-2, 6-3 after the Tar Heel knocked out No. 10 Michaela Gordon.
Mateas defeated Wake Forest’s No. 16 Emma Davis and North Carolina’s No. 2 Makenna Jones to reach the championship, only losing nine games total in those two matches.
“I was impressed with how she handled her emotions. She didn’t get too up or too down. One thing that we kept talking about was don’t play the score, play the ball,” Ashworth said. “She was trying to play each point the exact same.”
Whittle got out to a strong start in the final, as she held serve twice and broke the Blue Devil for an early advantage. But Mateas came right back, knotting the first set at 3 apiece. Ashworth noted that nerves got the better of Mateas to start, but she quickly settled in and hit the ball well. Whittle took three of the next four games to secure the set.
In the second set, Mateas and Whittle each were broken three times to start the set as they struggled serving. The Gonzaga senior held serve for a 4-3 lead and had two match points that Mateas saved to even the set at 5-all.
“I was questioning the moment because the free points and the double faulting had not been an issue the entire tournament,” Ashworth said. “You can simulate pressure all you want, but it’s just not the same thing.”
In the deciding frame after the freshman won the final two games of the second set, Mateas took an early 2-1 lead, but eventually lost the decider 3-6.
The Blue Devils' No. 12 Kelly Chen knocked off Michigan’s No. 33 Giulia Pairone and Oklahoma State’s Katarina Stresnakova to advance to the quarterfinals. But the sophomore met her match in the eventual champion, who won 6-2, 6-3.
“Kelly handled herself well. She played a little more mature than she had in the past," Ashworth said. "She played very disciplined."
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Both Mateas and Chen qualified for the Fall National Championship in Surprise, Ariz., Nov. 7-11 by advancing to the quarterfinals.
The Blue Devils' success this weekend did not end with Mateas and Chen. No. 31 Meible Chi defeated SEC opponents from Vanderbilt, Florida and Alabama in the qualifying draw while only giving up 11 games for her place in the Round of 32.
The junior upset Florida State’s No. 11 Carly Touly 6-3, 6-1 to set up a match with the reigning champion Fernanda Contreras. The Vanderbilt senior defeated Chi and then lost to Whittle. Ashworth believes that Chi is hitting as well as anyone in the country.
“I was really impressed with how [Meible] was striking the ball, how she was moving, how positive she was with everything,” Ashworth said. “That definitely gave her a lot of confidence moving forward.”
Chi teamed up with Kaitlyn McCarthy in doubles, but lost to UCLA’s No. 29 Elysia Bolton and Jada Hart in the opening round.
The tandem, which hadn’t played with each other in two years, saw success in the back draw. After defeating UNLV’s No. 37 Aiwen Zhu and En-Pei Huang 8-7(3), McCarthy and Chi blew past Wake Forest’s No. 5 Davis and Chandler Carter 8-1, but fell short in the semifinals to Stanford’s No. 3 Gordon and Emily Arbuthnott.
“If they can be aggressive and communicate really well together, then they could beat anybody in the country,” Ashworth said. “If they're going to sit back and not be overly aggressive and a little bit on the passive side, they may struggle.”
Mateas and Chen picked up their first doubles win of the season, but the pair fell in the second round of qualifying. After a less than perfect doubles outing this week, the Blue Devils will look to improve in the next two weeks. Although McCarthy and Ellyse Hamlin entered the season ranked No. 1, the pairings are not set as Ashworth looks to create a championship team.
“We always had the mindset in the fall of trying some different things with our doubles and trying to find three really good teams and not one great team,” Ashworth said.
No. 84 McCarthy fell to LSU’s Keenan Johnson in prequalifying in singles.
Duke will compete in the ITA Carolina Regional down the road in Chapel Hill from Oct. 18 through Oct. 22.