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Duke women's tennis opens home slate with sweep against Elon

<p>Meible Chi swept her match Wednesday.</p>

Meible Chi swept her match Wednesday.

After an 11-day break since the team’s win over No. 9 Oklahoma State in The Bahamas, Duke women’s tennis finally returned to action for its first home match of the season.

And for the fourth consecutive year, the fourth-ranked Blue Devils swept Elon 7-0 at Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center. Duke controlled the match from start to finish, winning its first two doubles matches 6-0, 6-1 and dropping just one singles set. The victory marks the team’s 28th consecutive win at home—its last loss in Durham came in the 2016 NCAA tournament.

“Playing here at home is important for us,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “We have had a great home record the last couple of years, so kind of want to set the tone with that too. That is something we take a lot of pride in—playing well here.”

Despite the dominant performance, there were some areas of concern Wednesday afternoon. While the Blue Devils’ two doubles wins secured the point for that section of the match, the third and unfinished doubles match saw the team’s two freshmen—Maria Mateas and Margaryta Bilokin—struggling to adjust to a bigger stage.

While their teammates cruised to easy victories, Mateas and Bilokin saw themselves in a 3-1 deficit on Court 3 to Elon’s Uma Nayar and Nicole Shiau. But the two rookies quickly fought back, with a commanding ace from Bilokin tying the set at 3-3 right before Kelly Chen and Hannah Zhao clinched the doubles point for Duke (2-0) two courts over.

“They are two freshmen together in their first match out here,” Ashworth said. “They were a little bit nervous, a little bit tight and they admitted that. So it is good to get that out of the way.”

The singles matches saw little drama for the most part. Meible Chi—ranked as the No. 10 singles player in the country—and Kaitlyn McCarthy—ranked No. 58—both swept their Phoenix  opponents, while Bilokin and senior Ellyse Hamlin failed to lose a set as well. 

On Court 6, however, Zhao saw herself in an early deficit to Elon’s Alex Koniaev, down 3-0 early in the first set. The sophomore fought her way back to take a 4-3 lead, but eventually dropped the set 6-4. Nevertheless, Zhao would steamroll to a 6-0 victory in the second set before taking the tiebreaker 11-9, keeping the Blue Devils’ 7-0 hopes alive.

“[Zhao] saving some match points there in the tiebreaker—I think that will pay dividends for our team down the road,” Ashworth said. “The quicker we can get her on the court the better. She got off to a little bit of a slow start down 3-0 in the first set, but really since that point she dominated the match losing one game after that. And then you get into a 10-point tiebreaker and really anything can happen so she did a good job.”

Meanwhile, Mateas—starting her freshman campaign as the No. 8 singles player in the nation—had a much tougher time on Court 1 than expected. The Chapel Hill, native shot out to a 5-0 advantage over the Phoenix’s Suzanne Zenoni but then proceeded to drop two straight games, causing one Duke fan to exclaim in complete awe that “[Zenoni] had won a game.”

Mateas would take the first set 6-2, but it only got more difficult in the second. And after a beautiful Zenoni drop shot won the junior a long, tiring point that had both athletes running all across the court, the scoreboard proclaimed a 3-3 tie. Mateas then won two of the next three games to clinch the sweep against Elon (3-3), but must move past her rookie nerves to fully reach her potential.

“I thought [Zenoni] changed her game a little bit and made it where Maria had to generate all her own pace,” Ashworth said. “And when you are tight and you are a little bit nervous it is hard to generate your own pace...hopefully she can learn from that and move on.”

Next, the Blue Devils will take on Gonzaga Saturday to begin the ITA kickoff weekend, with sights set on reaching the ITA team indoors tournament in February.

“It is a different mindset in that [if] you lose you do not advance,” Ashworth said regarding Duke’s upcoming tournament. “In our regular match like today we can move on and forget. But our goals are bigger than that and our goals are to get to Seattle and get to the national team indoors. So we have to value every point we play on Saturday to have the opportunity to play on Sunday.”