After clinching a berth to ITA Team Indoors with two sweeps last weekend, Duke women’s tennis looked to continue its hot streak with one more dual match before heading to Seattle.
The fourth-ranked Blue Devils did just that, blanking Illinois 7-0 Sunday at Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center. Duke lost only one total set all afternoon, and the sweep marks the team’s fourth consecutive match without dropping a point. Furthermore, the victory brings head coach Jamie Ashworth to 500 for his career. Ashworth has led the Blue Devils’ women’s tennis program since 1997, amassing a 500-25 record, nine Final Fours and one national championship.
“It means we have had a ton of great players during my time here,” Ashworth said regarding his 500th win. “They are the ones that go out and compete...they are the ones that do a majority of the recruiting...they have done a great job of kind of selling our program. So it is great for me but it is great for our program. That means we have had a lot of success in my time here. So many people should take credit for that not just me—players, coaches, athletic trainers. Just everybody that surrounds our program; that is a piece for them, too.”
The match began with Duke (5-0) taking its fifth straight doubles point. Ellyse Hamlin and Kaitlyn McCarthy breezed through a 6-2 win on Court 2, while Kelly Chen and Meible Chi did the same in a 6-2 victory of their own on Court 3.
Maria Mateas and Margaryta Bilokin, meanwhile, did not have as easy of a time. Facing Illinois’ top doubles pair on Court 1, the freshmen duo shot out to an early 2-0 lead, but the Fighting Illini’s Sasha Belaya and Dani Pedraza would fight back to tie the set up at two. The scoreboard read 3-3 before Hamlin and McCarthy clinched the doubled point for the Blue Devils and the match moved on to singles.
“Our doubles today was very clean,” Ashworth said. “Even at [Court 1]...they did not get to finish but I thought that they have improved a lot from where they were ten days ago and so I think our level of confidence is where it needs to be.”
In singles, Duke’s talent simply proved too much for its opponents. Both No. 10 Chi and No. 37 Chen cruised to 6-2, 6-0 victories on Courts 2 and 3, with neither breaking much of a sweat at all. Bilokin, Hamlin and Hannah Zhao would win in straight sets as well.
The Fighting Illini (0-3) had one member give the Blue Devils some problems, Asuka Kawai, on Court 1. While No. 8 Mateas won the first game 6-4, Kawai refused to give up, taking the second game 6-3. And with the other matches having ended and all their teammates cheering them on, the two freshmen would go to a tiebreaker.
Kawai seemed to take momentum with an overhead slam on the first point of the tiebreaker, jolting out to a thundering 1-0 advantage. But Mateas proceeded to take four consecutive points and a 4-1 edge of her own, a lead she would not relinquish. The Chapel Hill, native eventually won the tiebreaker 10-8, completing the 7-0 sweep for the Blue Devils.
“At the end of that—that tiebreaker—[Mateas] was a little bit more experienced put some more balls into play than [Kawai]. [Kawai] competed really well, though...it is good for [Mateas]. Obviously it would be great if she had won easily but she needs to be tested and needs to play with different kind of pressure on her than she puts on herself. Any time she is in that situation, I think in the long-term, it is good for her.”
Next, Duke will travel west for the ITA Team Indoors in Seattle, which starts Feb. 8. Last year, the team defeated two ranked teams to begin the tournament before falling to North Carolina in the semi-finals. The event will be a good test to see how Duke fares against top competition early in the season.
“We have an opportunity next week to play among 16 of the top 20 teams [in the country],” Ashworth said. “I think we are in a good place mentally...shifting all our focus to that event this week will obviously be what we need to do in practice. It is a great opportunity for our team. It is an event where we have had a lot of success and won some really good matches and can springboard a team into some great things.”
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