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Duke women's tennis falls to North Carolina in the ITA Indoors National Championships semifinals

<p>Kelly Chen battled on the court in Seattle.</p>

Kelly Chen battled on the court in Seattle.

Although the Blue Devils traveled to Seattle knowing that all of their matches would be played indoors, the snow did not allow the tournament to run as smooth as planned.

Duke picked up a pair of ranked victories this weekend before falling to third-ranked North Carolina 4-0 Monday night in the ITA Indoor National Championships semifinal match. The Tar Heels then fell to No. 5 Georgia in the championship match Tuesday.

In the opening round against No. 16 Ohio State, the Blue Devils played an up-and-down match and at times, the outcome looked more likely to be a Round of 16 exit instead of a deep run.

Due to the impending snow storm, the matchup began with the six singles matches instead of the three doubles matches.

No. 100 Kaitlyn McCarthy took out Ohio State’s Danielle Wolf 6-0, 6-0 while classmate Ellyse Hamlin defeated Mary Beth Hurley 6-1, 6-1 at singles four and six, respectively, to put the third-seeded Blue Devils up 2-0.

But a run of Buckeye victories in the top three spots placed Ohio State in position to earn the upset as the match then turned focus to fifth singles. After winning the first set 6-4 and dropping the second frame 5-7, freshman Margaryta Bilokin pulled through for a 6-4 third-set victory to send the match to the distance.

Duke clinched the match at third doubles with a 6-2 victory for junior Meible Chi and sophomore Kelly Chen. Hamlin and McCarthy also registered another win.

“There was a point in the match where you’re looking at the scores and thinking this could be over in an hour and 20 minutes. We won five first sets and were in control of the match and [Ohio State] hung around, dug really deep and did a good job of fighting back,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth told after Friday’s match. “We went from that to hoping Margaryta can pull her match out and get to doubles. She came up big.”

In the Sunday quarterfinals against No. 7 Pepperdine—after Saturday’s schedule was wiped out due to the weather—the same two doubles duos earned wins before Duke once against won five out of six opening sets. But this time, Bilokin was the first off the court in straight sets and was followed by Hamlin.

After No. 21 Chen lost a match point in deuce on Court 3 to prolong the match, freshman No. 11 Maria Mateas fell to Pepperdine’s Ashley Lahey.

Chen then booked the Blue Devils trip to the tournament’s final four with a 6-2, 6-4 victory against No. 52 Jessica Failla.

“Our emotion was very good. Before the match, I told them they had to be the best team on the court physically, mentally and emotionally,” Ashworth said after the quarterfinal victory. “We set the tone in doubles with good emotion and got a win from our two seniors again. I thought as a whole, it was one of the best matches we’ve played against some of the best competition we’ve had.”

The semifinals did not start the way the Blue Devils may have desired. After Hamlin and McCarthy knocked off No. 5 Makenna Jones Cameron Morra 6-2, the Tar Heels took the first and third doubles courts to earn the coveted doubles point.

After that, Duke ended up getting swept with the first three singles matches going to the lighter shade of blue. Chen, Bilokin and Mateas each lost their respective matches to send North Carolina into the final round.

But in the three matches that did not finish before the Tar Heel victory, Duke was in position to grab two victories. McCarthy split the first two sets before going into a 0-4 hole while No. 8 Chi was tied 2-2 in the third frame. On Court 6, Hamlin won the first set 7-6(3) and was a few points away from victory before Mateas lost. The match was in a second-set tiebreaker.

“I thought today was definitely a winnable match,” Ashworth said after Monday’s match. “The score doesn’t reflect that. We left a lot of opportunities on the court. In those opportunities, I thought North Carolina was just tougher than we were. We had chances to win points and win games and we didn’t take advantage of it. We can either sit and sulk or learn from this.”

The Blue Devils will have time to regroup back home before heading down to Tallahassee, Fla., to play No. 20 Florida State Feb. 22 before traveling further south two days later to face off against No. 17 Miami down in Coral Gables, Fla., to open up ACC play.

“We’ll have a couple days off but at the same time, but we have the toughest part of our schedule coming up,” Ashworth said. “We have to build on this and learn that we have to play with emotion and energy. If we do that, really good things can happen.”


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