Although the nerves of playing in their first home dual match may have been apparent in the first hour, it was a blank sheet on the latter en route to convincing Duke singles victories.
For three Blue Devils in the lineup Wednesday afternoon, it was their first dual match inside the Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center. But that didn’t stop No. 5 Duke in the end, as the Blue Devils dropped only three second sets to sweep Elon 7-0.
“We had three people in our lineup today that haven’t played a dual match in this building, so a good experience for them before we head into the weekend, which is a big deal for us,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “Excited about the win and proud of how we played and competed.”
The Blue Devils (2-0) jumped out to an early 3-0 lead against the Phoenix (1-3) on all three doubles courts and those leads would survive, as the third duo of graduate student Summer Dvorak and freshman Chloe Beck kicked off the scoring with a 6-1 victory. That clinching point came from the top court, as the tandem of sophomore Margaryta Bilokin and freshman Yasmine Mansouri fought off a trio of Elon game points in the final game to record the 6-2 victory.
Over on the second court, senior Meible Chi and junior Hannah Zhao closed out their match with a pair of games to win 6-3 on a deciding deuce point off Chi’s serve.
No. 77 Chi began her singles match with a pair of inside-out forehand winners to take the opening frame. Using her efficient arsenal of powerful weapons, Chi then moved the ball around and increased that advantage and gave the senior four set points. On the fourth try, Chi hit the ball to Elon’s Victoria Saldh’s backhand twice before shifting the point to the deuce side. Chi then returned to the backhand side and a few rallies later, Chi was on the run after Saldh hit the net cord. She returned it and then volleyed home a winner to win 6-0.
“I thought she did a really good job of looking for her forehand,” Ashworth said about Chi. “When she’s not settling and taking a lot of backhands and really moving, especially to the backhand side and hitting forehands, she’s as good as anyone in the country.”
Meanwhile, No. 67 Bilokin didn’t drop a game to Elon’s Olivia Archer, and No. 25 Beck only allowed one game to put the Blue Devils only three second sets away from a victory.
Next to Beck was a fellow newcomer to this year’s roster. In her home debut, Dvorak jumped out to a 4-3 advantage and needed a deciding point to maintain the lead. On deuce point, Dvorak served it out wide to Nicole Shiau’s backhand. The Phoenix sophomore chipped the ball back as Dvorak charged the net. The graduate student’s overhead went to Shiau’s forehand, but the defensive return only made it back to her own service line. Dvorak then took the next game to win the first set 6-3.
Bilokin, Chi and Beck all carried over their winning ways into their second sets, as the trio went on to win the first four games of their respective sets. Chi and Bilokin quickly extended that lead to 5-0 each, with Chi commencing the sixth game of the set only moments before her teammate two courts to her left. Chi connected on three winners to give herself match point, where she pulled Saldh off court on backhand side and then attacked with an overhead slam to walk away victorious.
Bilokin wasn’t far behind and only needed one additional point in the final game to seal a victory of her own. On match point, she rallied with her opponent a few times back-and-forth before a she hit the ball deep enough that her opponent hit the ball a few feet long to Bilokin’s backhand side.
With the two straight set match wins, the Blue Devils only needed one more singles match to secure the victory.
After falling in the next game on Court Four, Beck recovered with four out the next five points, capped off with a successful serve-and-volley combination to take the commanding 5-1 lead. On a deuce and match point, Beck returned Elon’s Kiana Rizzolo serve with a backhand to set up the southpaw Rizzolo with a backhand. The Phoenix freshman hit her backhand down the line but missed wide to hand Beck the first clincher of her career.
“Chloe is playing her best tennis when she’s moving forward and flowing through the court,” Ashworth said. “She started doing that a lot more once she mentally felt comfortable and was able to settle down a little bit.”
After relinquishing just three singles games last Tuesday in Phoenix, Mansouri won a vital deuce point leading 5-4 to win the first set. On the top singles court, Mansouri used the momentum from the tight first-set victory to take control of the match for good.
The freshman won the first five games of the second frame and set up a match point soon after. On her opponent’s second serve, Mansouri ripped a forehand return that landed just inside the baseline. An Elon forehand then landed just inches behind the Blue Devil’s baseline, as Mansouri took the match 6-4, 6-0 for Duke’s fifth point of the afternoon.
“There was a little bit of nerve factor early,” Ashworth said about Mansouri. “She handled herself well. She plays with a lot of emotion and she’s been a great addition on the court obviously in matches, but in practices.”
Dvorak was next in line for victory, as she also didn’t drop a second-set game to win the match 6-3, 6-0 from the sixth singles position. On Court Five, Zhao won the first set 6-2 and maintained control in the second frame to set up a break and match point up 5-2. The final point of the dual match lasted 21 shots, culminating with a backhand winner from the junior from San Diego.
Duke will return to the court Saturday afternoon against Kansas State in the first round of ITA Kickoff Weekend. Before the Blue Devils take on the Wildcats, they will focus on improving their doubles game, which will be aided by the return of star junior Kelly Chen, who sat out the dual match but will return to the lineup this weekend.
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