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ChronSports' Top 10 of 2019 — No. 7: Duke women’s tennis makes Final Four run

Kelly Chen helped lead the Blue Devils to an appearance in the national semifinal.
Kelly Chen helped lead the Blue Devils to an appearance in the national semifinal.

As 2019 comes to a close, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest stories of the year in Duke athletics. Each day, we will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year for the Blue Devils.

Coming in at No. 7: Duke women’s tennis makes a deep NCAA tournament run to cap a successful spring.

After a successful fall individual season in which star freshman Maria Mateas finished just one set short of winning the ITA All-American Championship, the Blue Devils came out firing in the spring of 2019.

As the host school for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, the Blue Devils kicked off postseason play with an Ambler Tennis Stadium matchup against James Madison. After a convincing pair of victories to take the doubles point, Duke continued its strong play on the singles side. Freshman Margaryta Bilokin, who joined the program in January, quickly upended her opponent in straight sets to put the team on the board once again. Kaitlyn McCarthy in her final NCAA tournament of her college career, won 6-4, 6-1 in the third singles spot. To close out the sweep, sophomore Kelly Chen won 6-4, 6-3 on Court Two.

In the second round, the Blue Devils continued their strong play with a 4-0 sweep against Arizona State. Chen and senior Ellyse Hamlin took out the Sun Devils’ doubles team 6-3 before Mateas and Bilokin clinched the opening point with a victory of the same score. On the singles side, Hamlin did not drop a game en route to a 6-0, 6-0 win in the fifth singles spot. McCarthy was next in the victory circle, as she won her fourth singles match in straight singles. Then, after Bilokin didn’t drop a game in the first frame, she battled to a second-set tiebreaker in the second. In the breaker, Bilokin inched past her opponent with an 8-6 win to clinch a spot in the Sweet 16.

The Sweet 16 was a battle of ACC rivals, as the Blue Devils dispatched North Carolina State for their third consecutive 4-0 sweep. Duke lost in the first doubles match, but quickly recovered on Courts Two and Three. Junior Meible Chi jumped out to an early 4-1 singles advantage and closed out the opening frame 6-2. She won the second by the same score to claim the second point. In her final home match, McCarthy won 6-3, 6-3 and Chen put the finishing touches with a 6-3, 6-4 victory.

Down at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., Duke matched up with South Carolina for a chance to advance to a second-straight Final Four. The Blue Devils won the doubles point from the first and third positions, and took four out the first six singles sets to set themselves up for a win. At second singles, Chi knocked off No. 17 Paige Cline 7-5, 6-0 before Mateas dropped her match 1-6, 2-6 to No. 4 Ingrid Gamarra Martins. McCarthy then knocked off Megan Davies 6-1, 6-3 at fifth singles to put Duke up 3-1. Then Bilokin defeated Rachel Rohrabacher 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 and was swarmed by her teammates as she clinched a trip to the coveted Final Four.

Chen was hospitalized after the Elite Eight match with dehydration and a full body cramp, which required an IV, but she was ready to play in the next round.

In the national semifinals, Duke quickly were down 0-2 to No. 1 Georgia. Chen and Hamlin put Duke on the scoreboard with 6-2, 7-5 and 6-2, 7-6(6) wins, respectively, but a McCarthy defeat placed the team on the brink of elimination. The Blue Devils needed Chi on Court 2 and Bilokin on Court Six. Chi lost her first set 1-6 before taking the second one 7-6(5) to send the match to a deciding third set. Bilokin also split the opening two sets, 7-5 and 5-7. With Chi’s match knotted at five apiece and after Bilokin saved a match point, the freshman missed a forehand long on a deciding deuce point that would have evened the match.

Duke ended its season with a 27-4 record, but the team wasn’t finished with Orlando just yet. Chen bounced back from her long quarterfinal night to become the fourth Blue Devil in program history to advance to the NCAA individual semifinals. En route to a semifinal matchup with Georgia’s No. 2 Katarina Jokic, Chen defeated Pepperdine’s No. 53 Jessica Failla 6-2, 6-4, N.C. State’s No. 10 Anna Rogers 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, Vanderbilt’s No. 6 Fernanda Contreras 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 and North Carolina’s No. 20 Sara Daavettila 6-3, 6-4. Chen then fell 5-7, 2-6 in the semifinals.

READ MORE on Duke’s run to the Final Four:

Duke women's tennis freshman Maria Mateas advances to ITA All-American championship

Duke women's tennis freshman Maria Mateas brings professional success to the college game

Duke women's tennis storms past N.C. State in Sweet 16

Duke women's tennis clinches Final Four berth with victory against South Carolina

Duke women's tennis comes up short in Final Four matchup against Georgia

Duke women's tennis' Kelly Chen becomes 9th-ever Blue Devil to advance to NCAA singles quarterfinals

Duke women's tennis' Kelly Chen advances past NCAA quarterfinals but falls in semifinals

A look at the rest of our top 10 countdown:

No. 10: Duke wrestling's Mitch Finesilver places 4th in NCAA championships

No. 9: Duke football kicks off season against No. 2 Alabama

No. 8: Haley Gorecki secures place in Duke women's basketball lore

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