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Duke women's tennis uses fast start to ease past No. 22 Virginia for fifth straight win

<p>Kaitlyn McCarthy clinched Duke's match against Virginia.</p>

Kaitlyn McCarthy clinched Duke's match against Virginia.

Few teams in the NCAA have been as dominant as the Blue Devils this March. Outside of a loss to North Carolina early in the month, Duke has been on an absolute tear, slicing through ranked opposition with ease.

And despite some momentary lapses, the Blue Devils looked as dominant as ever Sunday afternoon.

No. 3 Duke took down No. 22 Virginia 6-1 at Ambler Tennis Stadium for its fifth straight win. After battling through tough matchups in doubles, Blue Devil standouts Maria Mateas and Kelly Chen took care of business to set senior Kaitlyn McCarthy up for the game-winning point.

"I don't think we played a great match," Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. "When the points got close and there was clutch time, we played well, but we left a lot of points out there, especially in the doubles. We could've closed out the doubles a little earlier on some of the courts, and the singles too, we could've done a better job closing."

While the Blue Devils (15-2, 7-1 in the ACC) have been solid in doubles play throughout the season, Duke looked uncharacteristically sluggish out of the gates against the Cavaliers (12-5, 5-4).

On Court 1, the No. 69 tandem of Chen and Ellyse Hamlin struggled to find any footing against the No. 70 pair of Chloe Gullickson and Amber O'Dell, falling behind 4-2 early. The Virginia duo clamped down for a definitive 6-3 win to put pressure on Duke's other doubles teams, each holding a 5-4 advantage. Luckily for the Blue Devils, the No. 36 tandem of McCarthy and Meible Chi surged ahead to take its match 6-4, and Duke's freshman duo of Mateas and Margaryta Bilokin took two straight games to put the Blue Devils on the board with a 7-5 victory.

Transitioning from doubles to singles, No. 15 Mateas showed no sign of slowing down, cruising through Vivian Glozman on Court 2. The Duke freshman put together four straight games before Glozman could take a game of her own, finishing the first set 6-2. Although her Cavalier opponent managed to earn another game at the beginning of the second set, Mateas took control for a resounding 6-1 frame to put the Blue Devils up 2-0.

"[Mateas] is playing her game a lot better," Ashworth said. "She's hitting the ball a little bit cleaner. She's hitting through the ball. She's somebody who has got a lot of power, and early in the season she wasn't using that. She was trying to feel her way through matches, but even in practice she has been swinging a lot better and being more aggressive with shots and aggressive with opportunities."

No. 22 Kelly Chen was next to earn Duke a point, taking down No. 39 Meghan Kelley 6-2, 7-5 on Court 1. After trading the opening four games, Chen rallied for four straight to put away the first set. However, Kelley responded with a surge of her own in the second, taking a 5-3 lead. But behind sharp serving and incredible ball movement, the sophomore Blue Devil pulled together four straight games to ice the match.

Although Bilokin surrendered a point to the visiting team with a 7-5, 6-3 loss on Court 6 to Camille Favero, McCarthy was able to keep Duke's winning streak alive with the clincher on Court 5 against Sofia Munera. Like Mateas and Chen, the senior Blue Devil cruised in the opening set for a 6-1 advantage. However, despite having a 5-3 lead in the second and multiple match points, McCarthy struggled to close it out. Munera managed to knot the set at 5-5, but McCarthy ultimately prevailed for the final two games, giving the home team yet another conference win.

"We need to be a better closing team," Ashworth said. "We did a really good job putting ourselves in position with scorers in some of the singles sets and some of those first sets. Midway through there, we took our foot off the gas a little bit. We can't do that. We need to close as good as we start."

Chi and Hamlin had similar up-and-down matches, with both going to three sets. No. 14 Chi came through with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 victory on Court 3, and Hamlin took down Gullickson 6-1, 4-6, 6-1.

The Blue Devils face a tough stretch ahead, where they will face three ACC foes on the road starting with Virginia Tech on Friday.

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