If there is any team Duke has struggled against in recent years, it is Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have taken six of their past seven meetings with the Blue Devils, dating back to 2013.
But Friday, No. 3 Duke finally emerged victorious over its counterparts to the south, defeating Georgia Tech 6-1 at Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center. The Blue Devils began the afternoon with a hard-fought doubles win, a point they had lost their last three matches. Duke then dropped only two total sets and one tiebreaker in singles en route to its third consecutive ACC victory.
“[The Yellow Jackets] kind of had our number, so it was good to get on top of them,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “After the doubles we just said ‘let’s try and use that momentum the best we can.’ And I thought that we were able to do that.”
Duke (10-1, 3-0 in the ACC) experimented with two new teams on doubles, pairing Margaryta Bilokin and Meible Chi as well as Maria Mateas with Kelly Chen. The lone Blue Devils duo that remained the same from their most recent win against Miami, No. 18 Ellyse Hamlin and Kaitlyn McCarthy, cruised through their Georgia Tech opponents 6-0. Duke’s other two sets, however, were far closer.
Mateas—who was re-inserted back into the doubles lineup after playing only singles against the Hurricanes—and Chen dropped their set, 6-3. Bilokin and Chi, meanwhile, battled their way to a tiebreaker, the doubles point relying solely on them with both teams standing by to watch.
The pair shot out to a 5-0 lead, but the Yellow Jackets (4-5, 1-1) fought back to knot up the tiebreaker at 6-6. Nevertheless, Bilokin and Chi would win two consecutive points for the Blue Devils, clinching the set and handing Duke a 1-0 match advantage.
“We are still trying to find the best thing, the right combinations and combinations that are going to allow us the freedom of playing on all three courts—not having pressure on one or two courts and then we have to win those matches,” Ashworth said regarding his doubles teams. “So we are still going to tinker with that as much as we can, the best we can. We would have thought by now that we would have been able to get three consistent, solid doubles teams but we really have not. We just got to keep working at it.”
In singles, the Blue Devils steamrolled through their first four victories, as No. 26 Chen, No. 18 Chi, No. 108 McCarthy and No. 124 Hamlin all failed to drop a set. No. 22 Mateas and Bilokin, on the other hand, both found themselves in tiebreakers.
Mateas stayed even with No. 24 Kenya Jones for the first half of the win-or-go-home 10-point battle, at one point leading 5-4. It was then, however, that a Jones serve had clearly gone too far. Mateas, playing it safe, returned the serve, calling it out directly after. But the official disagreed and used Mateas’ return as validation that the serve was in, granting the point to the Yellow Jackets.
Mateas was visibly frustrated after the missed call, and went on to lose the next five points as well, squandering the tiebreaker 10-5.
“It is hard—the value of every point is so big in a tiebreaker,” Ashworth said. “Unfortunately you cannot let something like that get to you...you got to put that behind you and move onto the next play as fast as you can. And so hopefully she learns from that next time she is in that situation.”
Bilokin fell behind 4-0 early in her tiebreaker, but proceeded to take eight of the nine points to take an 8-5 advantage, eventually winning 10-8. Her victory gave Duke its third six-point performance of the season.
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Next, the Blue Devils will travel to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina Wednesday. The Tar Heels represent Duke’s only loss on the year, a semi-finals defeat in the ITA Team Indoors last month.
“We will be ready to compete and understanding that we are chasing something—we are not defending something,” Ashworth said. “I think last time we were in the mindset of defending some inanimate thing—I do not know what it was—but we played in more of a defensive mindset. So this time we have to play with nothing to lose—go out there and see what happens.”